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The Fossil Chronicles 

HOW TWO CONTROVERSIAL DISCOVERIES 
CHANGED OUR VIEW OF HUMAN EVOLUTION 


DEAN FALK 



The Fossil Chronicles 


This page intentionally left blank 



The Fossil Chronicles 

How Two Controversial Discoveries 
Changed Our View of Human Evolution 


Dean Falk 


qa 


UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS 

Berkeley Los Angeles London 


University of California Press, one of the most distinguished 
university presses in the United States, enriches lives around 
the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social 
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the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions 
from individuals and institutions. For more information, 
visit www.ucpress.edu. 

University of California Press 
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California 

University of California Press, Ltd. 

London, England 

© 2011 by Dean Falk 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Falk., Dean. 

The fossil chronicles : how two controversial 
discoveries changed our view of human evolution / Dean 
Falk. 

p. cm. 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 
isbn 978-0-520-26670-4 (cloth : alk. paper) 

1. Fossil hominids. 2. Flores man. 3. Australopithecines. 

4. Human remains (Archaeology). 5. Human evolution — 
Philosophy. 6. Paleoanthropology. I. Title. 

GN282.5.F35 2011 

599.93'8 — dc22 2011003602 

Manufactured in the United States of America 

20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 

10 987654321 

In keeping with its commitment to support environmentally 
responsible and sustainable printing practices, UC Press 
has printed this book on Natures Book, which contains 30% 
post-consumer waste and meets the minimum requirements 
of ansi/niso z 39.48-1992 (r 1997) {Permanence of Paper). 


For Joel Yohalem 


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CONTENTS 


L ist of Illustrations i x 
Acknowledgments xi 

Introduction 

i 

Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 

5 

. Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdown 
20 

3. Taung’s Checkered Past 
40 

4. Sulcal Skirmishes 

59 

5. Once upon a Hobbit 

76 


6 . Flo’s Little Brain 


viii / Contents 


7. Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 
135 

8. Whence Homo floresiensisl 
161 

9. Bones to Pick 
188 


Notes 199 

Glossary ofNeiiroanatomical Terms 227 
References 231 
Index 253 


ILLUSTRATIONS 


1. John Cooke’s oil painting The Piltdovm Committee io 

2. Simplified schematic of the left side of a human cerebrum 26 

3. Early photograph of Raymond Dart with the Taung fossil jo 

4. Taung’s face, lower jaw, and natural endocast 31 

5. Right side of Taung’s face and endocast compared with a 
chimpanzee brain jj 

6. Dart’s identifications of the lunate sulcus and certain functional 
areas on Taung’s endocast 3/ 

7. Author’s identifications placed directly on a copy of 
Taung’s endocast 63 

8. Figure 19 from Dart’s unpublished manuscript 68 

9. Male hobbit, illustrated by artist Peter Schouten y8 

10. Mark Moore knaps some tools at Liang Bua 83 

11. Mike Morwood, 1995 pi 

12. Researcherjatmiko, from the Indonesian National Research 
Centre for Archaeology py 

13. Author with Charles Hildebolt and their Indonesian collaborators py 


x / Illustrations 


14. Author and staff at the Electronic Radiology Laboratory at 
Mallinckrodt 106 

15. Charles Hildebolt at Siemens Sensation scanner no 

16. Virtual skull and endocast from 3D-CT data collected from 
LBi’s skull hi 

17. Virtual endocasts viewed from their right sides iij 

18. Virtual endocast of LBi from the right side, back, front, 
and top ny 

19. Endocasts of microcephalies described in Science report 131 

20. Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) with her arms around famous 
microcephalies Simon Metz (Schlitzie) and Pip and Zip (Elvira 
and Jenny Lee Snow) 140 

21. Right side of the virtual endocast of LBi compared with that of 
the microcephalic Basuto woman 143 

22. Virtual endocasts of Hobbit, normal humans, microcephalies, 
and “dwarf’ with secondary microcephaly 146 

23. Brain shape in normal humans compared with microcephalic 
humans 143 

24. Outlines of the right sides of endocasts from microcephalies 
and LBi 143) 

23. X-ray of skull of LS patient compared with a CT image of 
LBi’s skull ijj 

26. Skeleton of LBi compared with the skeleton of a Swiss cretin ijy 

27. Skeleton keys 164 

28. Ron Clarke with part of Little Foot’s skeleton iyi 

29. Paleoanthropologist Bill Jungers with full-body reconstruction 
of LBi, by Parisian paleoartist Elisabeth Daynes 181 

30. Comparison of artifacts from Olduvai Gorge, Mata Menge, 
and Liang Bua Pleistocene deposits 186 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


Much of this book was written while I was in residence during 2008-9 
at the School for Advanced Research (SAR), in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 
There is nothing like getting up in the morning knowing that your only 
commitment is to work on your book. (Indeed, there were some cozy, 
snowy days when I did not get out of my pajamas.) For this privilege, I 
will be eternally thankful to the staff at SAR, including President James 
Brooks. Laura Flolt obtained numerous esoteric references and helped 
with images, Jason S. Ordaz photographed specimens, and Jonathan 
Lewis spent countless hours shaping up the illustrations of endocasts. It 
was inspiring to live among several other resident scholars on the beau- 
tiful SAR campus. My next-door neighbor, Wenda Trevathan, finished 
her book on evolutionary medicine way ahead of the rest of us. We 
became close friends and will always remain so. 

This project allowed me to do research in historical archives for the 
first time, and I loved getting lost in the details of Raymond Dart’s life. 
Dart (1893-1988) is famous for having discovered the world-renowned 
Taung fossil, which was the first recognized australopithecine. His 
unpublished manuscripts, notes, correspondence, and illustrations of 
Taung’s endocast, discussed in this book, are part of the holdings in the 
archives of the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), in Johannesburg, 


xii / Acknowledgments 

South Africa. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Goran Strkalj for information 
about locating Dart’s papers in the Wits archives, to Lesego Phachane 
and Mack Mohale for access to and assistance in obtaining copies of 
these materials, to Wits for permission to reproduce Dart’s previously 
unpublished sketches, to Francis Thackeray for helping locate images of 
Taung and Dart, and to Kgomotso Mothate for going to a good deal of 
trouble to locate the historical image of Dart with Taung that is repro- 
duced in this book. 

Professor Phillip V. Tobias knew Dart well and eventually succeeded 
him as chair of the Anatomy Department at Wits. I am grateful to him 
for answering my questions and for providing reprints of his publications 
concerning not only the discovery of Taung but also the reasons why it 
took so long for scientists to acknowledge the validity and importance 
of Dart’s contributions. Peter Faugust provided assistance in assembling 
and mailing reprints. My insights from the unpublished papers of Dart 
were initially published in the 2009 Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, and 
I thank Bob Sussman (the editor) for making that possible. 

I am especially grateful to Ron Clarke for helping me reexamine the 
Taung and other australopithecine specimens during my 2008 visit to 
Wits and for taking me to several important fossil hominin caves. It was 
a special thrill to descend deep within a cave at Sterkfontein to see the 
fabulous australopithecine skeleton known as Little Foot, which is still 
being excavated under Ron’s direction. 

My analysis of Taung had to be placed within historical context, of 
course, which took me back to the early 1900s, when the awful Piltdown 
hoax was first perpetrated. The misconceptions about human evolu- 
tion that were generated by Piltdown were widely accepted by scientists 
when Dart announced Taung in 1925. Partly because of this, it would be 
decades before the controversy surrounding Taung would be settled 
in Dart’s favor. As discussed in chapter 1, I believe that the Piltdown 
hoax, in turn, may have had earlier inspiration from the “missing link” 
that was discovered in 1891 by Eugene Dubois — Pithecanthropus (now 
Homo) erectus. It was Pat Shipman’s fine book about Eugene Dubois, The 


Acknowledgments / xiii 


Man Who Found the Missing Link, that got me thinking along these lines, 
and I thank her for providing clarification about the “coconut story” 
surrounding the first discovery of a Pithecanthropus skullcap. I am also 
deeply grateful to Pat for taking the time to read a draft of this book and 
for providing numerous constructive suggestions. This book includes 
an image ofjohn Cooke’s wonderful oil painting The Piltdovm Committee, 
and I thank Richard Milner for helping me find it. 

My gratitude to my colleagues from Mallinckrodt Institute of Radi- 
ology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis knows 
no bounds. Fred Prior is head of the Electronic Radiology Laboratory, 
where I have collaborated for many years with him, Kirk Smith, and 
Charles (aka Scooter) Hildebolt on various projects related to brain 
evolution. As described in the second half of this book, Mallinckrodt is 
where the virtual endocast from Hobbit (LBi), the most complete speci- 
men of Homo floresiensis, was first reconstructed, measured, and analyzed. 
That is also where it was compared with virtual endocasts from normal 
humans and human patients with microcephaly. The National Geo- 
graphic Society (NGS) provided financial support for both of these 
projects. Our team enjoyed working with David Hamlin when he filmed 
part of his 2005 NGS television show about the discovery of Homoflore- 
siensis (Tiny Humans: The Hobbits of Flores). 

One of the most interesting features of LBi’s endocast is the unusual 
morphology of its frontal lobe. The pathbreaking neurological research 
of Katerina Semendeferi and her colleagues informed our interpretation 
of Hobbit’s endocast. Katerina also reviewed an earlier version of this 
book and provided numerous helpful suggestions, a time-consuming 
task, which I deeply appreciate. 

Many people helped our work on Homo floresiensis move forward. 
First and foremost, my colleagues at Mallinckrodt and I will be eter- 
nally grateful to Mike Morwood, coleader of the team that discovered 
Homo floresiensis, for inviting us to analyze LBi’s endocast. It has been an 
incredibly exciting adventure. Officials from the Indonesian National 
Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS) kindly permitted our 


xiv / Acknowledgments 


access to the necessary data. We are indebted to our Indonesia col- 
laborators Thomas Sutikna, Jatmiko, Rokhus Due Awe, and E. Wayhu 
Saptomo, without whom our research would never have been done. We 
had the pleasure of meeting them and visiting Flores because of an 
invitation extended to us by the late professor emeritus Teuku Jacob to 
attend the International Seminar on Southeast Asian Paleoanthropology 
in Yogyakarta, Java, in 2007. 

Bill Jungers, who is deeply involved in studying the Flores remains, 
has been extremely tolerant of my never-ending requests for information 
and clarification related to Homo floresiensis. He has also provided some 
wonderful images for this book. Similarly, Mark Moore has patiently 
given feedback about the stone tools found on Flores and allowed me 
to reproduce a significant illustration that compares them with similar 
tools from Olduvai Gorge. Peter Schouten kindly allowed an image of 
his iconic reconstruction of a fleshed-out male hobbit to be included. 
An image of a wonderful reconstruction of Hobbit herself has been 
reproduced with the kind permission of Sebastien Plailly and paleo- 
artist Elisabeth Daynes. Bernard Zupfel provided the first photograph 
of Taung that graces the cover of this book, along with the photograph 
of Hobbit that was provided by Djuna Ivereigh. Kirk Smith provided 
the numerous images of virtual endocasts. I also thank Martin Young 
for preparing the skeleton keys graph and for the countless hours that 
he spent shaping up the other images, Yoel Rak for advice, and Donald 
Ortner for permitting inclusion of the photograph of a Swiss cretin. 

Deirdre Mullane is my literary agent, and she’s the best! I am grateful 
to Blake Edgar, my editor at University of California Press, for his faith 
in this project and for his intelligent editing. His colleagues, Hannah 
Love, Lynn Meinhardt, and Cindy Fulton, were also enormously help- 
ful, and Robin Whitaker did a terrific job on the copyediting. 


Introduction 


No subject provokes as much curiosity, argument, and dogma as the 
origin of humans. From the child who asks, “Where did I come from?” 
to religious leaders who maintain traditional beliefs about creation and 
our role in the cosmos, human origins is a topic of keen concern. Most, 
if not all, cultures have origin stories. So do the scientists who study 
human evolution, which is one reason why our academic field, known 
as paleoanthropology, can be particularly acrimonious. This is noth- 
ing new. In the late nineteenth century, naturalists staunchly defended 
their particular theories about human origins, despite contradictory 
finds that were beginning to accumulate in the fossil record. In this 
book I focus on two pivotal and controversial discoveries that rede- 
fined how both the public and scientists viewed human evolution, one 
from the 1920s and another that was unearthed less than a decade ago. 
Each is analyzed within its contemporary milieu, including the state of 
scientific knowledge about human evolution, the social undercurrents 
related to religious fundamentalism, and the academic politics that per- 
vade investigations of our past (paleopolitics). The two discoveries are 
compared with each other and interpreted within a wider framework 
that incorporates other finds, including the infamous Piltdown fraud. 
My aim is to portray the twists, turns, competitiveness, and passions 


1 


2 / Introduction 


that have always characterized research on human origins. If readers 
feel some of the excitement and drama of pursuing questions about what 
made us human and the thrill of refining the tentative answers in light 
of newly discovered fossils, I will have achieved my goal in this book. If 
they also glean something about scientists as people (warts and all) and 
the nature of their ongoing disputes with religious fundamentalists, all 
the better. 

I have seen colleagues almost come to fisticuffs over clashing opin- 
ions, and my own ideas have been subjected to intense, sometimes 
unpleasant, scrutiny. The reason my work has drawn such attention is 
that I study the evolution of the human brain. Our brains, after all, 
set us apart from other animals; they are the physical locus of all of 
the cognitive, neurological, and emotional traits that make us human. 
I think this is why the subfield of paleoanthropology that focuses on 
brain evolution, called paleoneurology, is especially contentious. 

Casts from the inner braincases of our ancestors (known as endo- 
casts) provide a physical record of this most important human organ and 
have been crucial for interpreting several fossils from the human family, 
including the two exceptional discoveries discussed in this book. The 
first, called Taung, was unearthed in South Africa by the Australian 
anatomist Raymond Dart in the 1920s and is probably the world’s most 
famous fossil. It consists of a little face, jaw, and endocast from a child 
and was the first specimen discovered from what is now recognized 
as an exceedingly important group of early human relatives, the aus- 
tralopithecines. The Taung specimen was announced in the journal 
Nature in 1925, just five months before the Scopes monkey trial would 
challenge the theory of evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. Although the 
announcement of Taung made headlines around the world, Dart was 
then subjected to over two decades of criticism from both religious 
fundamentalists and colleagues who doubted his claims about Taung’s 
importance for human origins. 

Part of the suspicion about Taung was due to the prior discovery of 
the so-called Piltdown Man, which included a fossil skull from a quarry 


Introduction / 3 


in England that seemed to provide important clues about the human 
past. The announcement of this find in 1912 captivated English scien- 
tists, who eagerly (some might say gleefully) claimed that humans had 
originated in the British Isles rather than elsewhere in Europe or Asia, 
as previously believed. Britain, it seemed, had just produced the most 
important evidence in the world for human evolution. Only decades 
later was Piltdown shown to be a forgery assembled from a human 
braincase and the lower jaw of an ape. 

At the time, however, reputations of celebrated British paleoanthro- 
pologists were built on Piltdown, and they did not take kindly to one of 
their former junior colleagues upstaging their missing link with some- 
thing very different from South Africa. The paleopolitics that Dart con- 
sequently experienced was intense and hurtful, and this book explores 
his personal and professional reactions, as well as the role of that contro- 
versy in shaping theories of human evolution. Much of the controversy 
about Taung focused on the small size and form of its endocast, which 
I have been privileged to study. In this book I will compare the still 
unresolved debate about Taung’s endocast with the one that raged when 
Dart first described it, and the results will be surprising. 

The second extraordinary discovery comes from the island of Flores, 
in Indonesia, and was unearthed only a few years ago by a joint Australian- 
Indonesian team led by another Australian scientist, Michael Morwood, 
and a local expert, Raden Pandji Soejono. The find consisted of a rela- 
tively complete skeleton of an adult woman who stood a little over three 
feet tall — hence her nickname, Hobbit. Because nothing like her had ever 
been seen before, Hobbit was placed in a new species, Homo floresiemis. As 
with Taung, the legitimacy of Hobbit has been intensely controversial 
among scientists, some of whom claim she is not a new species but simply 
a modern human who was afflicted with disease. 

Much of the controversy surrounding Hobbit has once again focused 
on the brain. I was part of the team that described Hobbit’s endocast, 
and my colleagues and I have used the latest CT-scanning technology 
to formulate our theories about her brain. Our findings have generated a 


4 / Introduction 


good deal of discussion. In order to answer our opponents, my team has 
gone in unexpected new directions with our research, and the results 
reveal that the generally accepted model of human evolution may be in 
serious need of revision. 

In my view, Hobbit is the most important hominin (or member of 
the fossil human family tree) to be discovered since Taung. In both 
cases, scientists were hostile to the claims of the discoverers because 
the implications of the specimens contradicted current scientific think- 
ing. In this book I will examine why this was so and what impact such 
hostility had on the direction of science. Both discoveries proved to be 
highly controversial, not only among scientists, but also with the public. 
Both were thought to belong to species appearing in the wrong time 
and in the wrong place. Both possessed brains that were problematic 
because of their small sizes. Both hold important keys for understand- 
ing human evolution. 

The British paleoanthropological establishment was clearly just as 
antagonistic toward Raymond Dart (one of their former students) as 
some scientists are today toward Michael Morwood and the researchers 
who study Homo floresiensis. The tone of the paleopolitics remains strik- 
ingly similar, negative, and at times ad hominem (trust me). This book 
contains my personal experiences related to controversies surrounding 
both discoveries and their implications for human brain evolution. It 
also reveals startling new information gleaned from Raymond Dart’s 
unpublished papers, which I examined in 2008, suggesting that more 
of a connection may exist between hobbits and australopithecines than 
anyone ever dreamed. 

The same kind of politics that polarizes paleoanthropology because 
of divided opinions about the legitimacy of Hobbit delayed the accep- 
tance of Taung for decades. Time and more remains of Homo floresiensis 
will determine whether Hobbit likewise becomes generally accepted 
as a pathbreaking discovery that casts an entirely new light on human 
origins. My bet is that it will. 


ONE 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


The outstanding interest of the Piltdown skull is the 
confirmation it affords of the view that in the evolution 
of Man the brain led the way. 

Grafton Elliot Smith 


Shortly before Christmas 1912, a remarkable fragmentary skull was pre- 
sented at a widely attended meeting of the Geological Society of Lon- 
don. The discovery had been made by Charles Dawson, a solicitor and an 
amateur geologist and archaeologist who had recovered seven pieces of 
the skull during the preceding four years from a gravel pit near Piltdown 
Common, in East Sussex. From 1913 to 1915, additional skull fragments 
appeared at Piltdown and two other nearby locations, including some 
from at least one other individual. 

Because the unprecedented fossil appeared to be a “missing link” that 
was intermediary between apes and humans, it was given a new scien- 
tific name, Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s dawn-man”), more commonly 
known as “Piltdown Man.” The announcement caused great excitement 
among British scientists, who claimed that its antiquity proved that 
humans had originated in the British Isles. Piltdown had just become the 
most important site anywhere for studying the early evolution of humans. 

It would be over four decades before the world would learn that Pilt- 
down Man was a fraudulent specimen that had been assembled from 


5 


6 / Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


a modern human braincase and the lower jaw of an orangutan and 
that both had been stained to appear as if they were from the same 
individual. 1 The most characteristic parts of the ape jaw, near the chin 
and farther back where it hinges with the skull, were missing, and the 
teeth had been deliberately filed to look more like those of humans. The 
gravel pit had also been salted with stone tools and fragments of fossil- 
ized hippopotamus, deer, horse, and mastodon from other places, which 
gave the false impression that the skull was very ancient. 

But at the time, Piltdown Man seemed real. Even though potentially 
revealing features of the jaw were missing, what remained still looked 
significantly apelike. Anatomists had to reassemble fragments from the 
broken cranium and fill in the missing portions of the jaw in order to 
fit the pieces together. Some scientists favored a restoration that had a 
more apish jaw but with hinges that were humanlike enough to attach 
to the cranium. Others preferred to make the missing parts of the jaw 
appear more humanlike. Although the scientists argued heatedly about 
these details, all of the Piltdown restorations resulted in some combina- 
tion of humanlike and apelike features. A mixture of traits, after all, was 
expected for a missing link. 

Despite their quibbles over the skull’s details, most scholars em- 
braced Piltdown as a legitimate human fossil — at least until 1953, when 
tests of the amount of nitrogen and fluorine in the Piltdown remains 
revealed that the cranium was older than the lower jaw. 2 This unleashed 
further investigations that eventually showed the extent of the fraud: 
“There did not appear to be a single specimen in the entire Piltdown 
collection of hominoid bones, associated fauna, and cultural remains 
that had genuinely originated from Piltdown.” 1 In hindsight and consid- 
ering the “seemingly ludicrous marriage of an orangutan mandible to 
a palpably modern human braincase,” the length of time it took for the 
hoax to be exposed was remarkably long. There were, however, under- 
standable reasons why Piltdown had been accepted as an ancestor. 

By the time of the Piltdown announcement, Charles Darwin’s gen- 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 7 


eral ideas about evolution had been published for slightly over half a 
century and had gained wide acceptance among scholars. 4 Paleontolo- 
gists were on the lookout for missing links that would support Darwin’s 
theories about human evolution, and several specimens had appeared 
as possible candidates. In 1891, the Dutch anatomist Eugene Dubois 
had discovered remains in Java that he christened Pithecanthropus erectus 
(“ape-man upright,” now Homo erectus ), or Java Man. 5 The skullcap of this 
new species was not only small but also long, low, and thick, which made 
its potential role as a human forerunner highly contentious. Just three 
months before Piltdown was unveiled, Pithecanthropus was rejected as a 
human ancestor in a report to the International Congress of Anthropol- 
ogy and Prehistoric Archaeology in Geneva, by the influential French 
paleontologist Marcellin Boule, who echoed the earlier opinion of the 
German pathologist Rudolf Virchow by claiming it was nothing more 
than an extinct gibbon. 6 While he was at it, Boule eliminated another 
potential human ancestor, the big-brained but primitive-looking Nean- 
derthals from Europe, which he thought should be dropped entirely 
from the human family tree. 7 

Under these circumstances and despite disagreements about the 
details of Piltdown’s restoration, it is understandable that most of the 
leading scholars in British paleoanthropology eagerly accepted the dis- 
covery of a missing link from their very own gravel beds as “the most 
important ever made in England, and of equal, if not of greater impor- 
tance than any other yet made, either at home or abroad.” 8 The main 
thing that convinced these scientists of Piltdown’s significance was its 
modern human braincase, because it fit better than the skulls of either 
Pithecanthropus or Neanderthal with prevailing expectations of how a 
very old missing link should look. 

Having been personally embroiled in controversies surrounding 
the two hominins that are the focus of this book, I was nonetheless 
surprised to learn from the Piltdown episode that the passionate fights 
and acrimony that accompany the science of paleoanthropology are 


8 / Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


nothing new. Many of the paleoanthropologists who were players (or 
were “played”) in the Piltdown episode were every bit as adamant and 
defensive about their favored evolutionary theories as some who prac- 
tice in the field today. Another thing that may have been true then, as 
I believe it is now, is that the closer to the brain (or braincase) one’s 
prized specimen is, the more intense the debates about its interpreta- 
tion. The brain makes us human, and the uniqueness of humanity 
has always been at the heart of the boisterous debates about human 
origins. 

The disagreement between two leading scientists, Arthur Smith 
Woodward and Arthur Keith, about how to reconstruct Piltdown Man 
shows just how acrimonious these debates can be. Woodward had first 
crack, having been invited by Dawson to supervise the initial recon- 
struction and description of the fossil. Appropriately enough (since the 
mandible was from an orangutan), Woodward reconstructed the missing 
front parts of Piltdown’s lower jaw to be consistent with the rest of its 
apelike morphology. His reconstruction therefore had large projecting 
canines. When Keith set out to “correct” Woodward’s reconstruction, he 
focused on Piltdown’s braincase, which he rightly believed Woodward 
had made too small. In his version of the skull, Keith expanded Pilt- 
down’s braincase and, reasoning that an ancestor with such a modern- 
looking braincase couldn’t have such an apelike jaw, reconstructed the 
Piltdown jaw, including its canines, to be more humanlike. In a sense, 
both scientists were right: Woodward’s reconstruction of the ape jaw was 
appropriate, as was Keith’s reconstruction of the human cranium. 

At a pivotal meeting of the Anatomical Section of the International 
Congress of Medicine in London on August n, 1913, Woodward pre- 
sented his reconstruction of Piltdown’s skull and conceded that Keith 
may have been right that its braincase should be larger but stood by his 
reconstruction of the mandible. 9 The assembly then adjourned to an 
amphitheater at the Royal College of Surgeons, where Keith presented 
his own model of the skull and gave his reasons for reconstructing its 
braincase to be 400 cm 3 larger than Woodward’s model: 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 9 


The difference between his model and that of Woodward’s, he declared, 
was not “simply a matter of opinion, but a principle of the most elementary 
fact”. Seizing Woodward’s model and holding it up to his audience, Keith 
is reported to have said with “infinite scorn”, that such an individual would 
have been prevented not only from eating but also breathing! “If a student 
had brought up a skull like this one, he would have been rejected for a 
couple of years”, he added mockingly. 10 

In response to Keith’s presentation, the renowned neuroanatomist 
and anthropologist Grafton Elliot Smith said that he was not disturbed 
by either Woodward’s reconstruction of an apelike mandible or Keith’s 
of a large braincase, because, in his view, enlargement of the human 
brain must have preceded the evolution of the face and jaw. Others con- 
curred. In reply, Keith is reported to have said that 

he did not think his audience quite realized the importance of the Piltdown 
skull. It brought home the incontrovertible fact that at the commencement 
of the Pleistocene, or perhaps more accurately at the end of the Pliocene, 
the human brain had reached its full size. This fact, he said, opened up a 
new insight into our past — “a vista of human cultures coming struggling 
to us over perhaps a million of years.” 11 

Dawson, however, was unimpressed. “When we have done with the 
pick and shovel,” he told a reporter, “it will be quite time enough to call 
in the doctors.” 12 Sure enough, a mere nine days after the meeting at the 
Royal College, “proof” of the accuracy of Woodward’s apelike recon- 
struction of the jaw came in the form of a new discovery from the grav- 
els (made by the French Jesuit priest Father Teilhard de Chardin) — a 
supposed right lower canine from the Piltdown mandible! In 1953 this 
tooth would be shown to have been filed and stained to match the color 
of the Piltdown remains. 13 Meanwhile, it contributed to the ongoing 
acrimony among scholars who had become “dug in” about their particu- 
lar views of Piltdown. 

The 1913 controversy inspired an oil painting, The Piltdown Committee, 
byjohn Cooke, which was unveiled at the annual exhibition of the Royal 
Academy in London in May 1915 (figure 1). As “a celebration of the indue- 


IO 


/ OfPaleopolitics and Missing Links 



Figure 1. John Cooke’s oil painting The Piltdown Committee. Back (left to right): 
Frank Orwell Barlow, Grafton Elliot Smith, Charles Dawson, and Arthur 
Smith Woodward. Front: Arthur Swayne Underwood, Arthur Keith, William 
Plane Pycraft, and Edwin Ray Lankester. A portrait of Charles Darwin hangs 
in the background. Courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History 
Library, Image #PCn-2o3. 


tion of the ‘earliest Englishman’ into the annals of British science” and 
“because it neatly captured the underlying geometry of the Piltdown 
controversy,” the now famous painting created a stir and was reputed 
to be the highlight of the exhibition . 14 In keeping with the widely pub- 
licized debate, Cooke depicts Arthur Keith demonstrating Piltdown’s 
large braincase, as Elliot Smith points to it approvingly . 15 Standing 
behind Keith and to his left, the most likely mastermind of the hoax (as 
discussed below), Charles Dawson, looks on with his colleague Arthur 
Woodward, as the latter’s reconstruction is being “corrected” by Keith. 

While most scientists accepted Piltdown as a legitimate missing link 



Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 


ii 


and were arguing about how it should best be reconstructed, militant 
fundamentalists were denouncing it as a fraud. In 1923, for example, 
the orator and politician William Jennings Bryan, who would later act 
as counsel for the prosecution in the infamous Scopes trial against 
teaching evolution in public schools, ridiculed paleontologists in an 
address to the West Virginia state legislature: “The evolutionists have 
attempted to prove by circumstantial evidence (resemblances) that man 
is descended from the brute. ... If they find a stray tooth in a gravel pit, 
they hold a conclave and fashion a creature such as they suppose the 
possessor of the tooth to have been, and then they shout derisively at 
Moses.” 16 Ironically, the fundamentalists proved to be way ahead of the 
scientists about this particular “discovery.” 

In 1912 when Piltdown was causing such a stir, 19-year-old Raymond 
Arthur Dart, who had been brought up as a religious fundamentalist, 
was experiencing his “first frank confrontation with evolutionary ideas” 
as a biology student at the University of Queensland, in Australia. 17 Dart 
was raised on a cattle farm in a pioneer family of devout Methodists 
and Baptists, and his childhood ambition was to become a medical mis- 
sionary. From an early age, he had a “passion for learning and books,” 
and he remained a self-described bookworm as an adult. 18 Dart also had 
a childhood interest in anatomy. His brothers, for example, returned 
from the field one day to find that Raymond had neglected his chores 
in order to dissect a rooster. 19 In 1912, Dart had no way of knowing that 
he would discover what was to become the world’s most famous fossil or 
of knowing the prolonged negative effect that the Piltdown discovery 
would have on the reception to his find. 

Given today’s often polarized discussions about the relative merits 
of science and religion, it is perhaps surprising that, rather than reject 
his religious upbringing in favor of evolutionary theory, Dart sought to 
reconcile the two. His biographers report that as an adult Dart would 
recite chapter and verse from Scripture in both German and English. 20 
Furthermore, 


12 


/ Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


even as Dart often read the Bible to his two children, it had earlier been 
agreed between Marjorie [Dart’s second wife] and himself not to chris- 
ten and register them in a particular church but, rather, to wait and allow 
them to attend the Sunday school of various denominations and, eventu- 
ally, join the church of preference. The couple made a strong point to 
instruct the children against prejudice of certain religions be they Catholic 
or Protestant, Jewish or Islam. Importantly, they took care not to promote 
political or racial bias in the children’s minds . 21 

Like Charles Darwin, who once intended to become an English 
country clergyman, and Louis Leakey, the famous paleontologist who 
had youthful ambitions of becoming a missionary, Dart came to see 
discrepancies between fundamentalism and facts. 22 Regardless of his 
waning orthodoxy, Dart’s early instruction seems to have had a positive 
effect, because today he is remembered “for his dynamic character, his 
unflinching forthrightness, his personal interest in and desire to help 
every student . . . his infectious confidence, his encouragement of criti- 
cism, even of himself. . . his keen sense of humour and his ability ‘to 
take it with a smile.’” 23 Dart’s personal and professional papers, which 
are archived at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, reveal 
that he was a gentle, intellectual, and private soul who retained a life- 
long inquisitiveness about nature. 

As Dart described it, 1914 was a “momentous year.” 24 Having received 
a degree with honors in biology from the University of Queensland, 
and although he was still working on a master of science degree, he 
entered medical school at the University of Sydney. In light of his boy- 
hood experiences with dissection, it is not surprising that Dart excelled 
at human anatomy and became particularly interested in the nervous 
system. In August, the British Association for the Advancement of 
Science held an international congress in Sydney, which was attended 
by, among other luminaries, the Australian-born Grafton Elliot Smith, 
a world-renowned anatomist and anthropologist. Elliot Smith had trav- 
eled from Manchester, England, where he was chair of anatomy, and 
Dart recalled that he gave a “brilliant public lecture on the evolution of 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 13 


the human fore-brain. It was in simple language by this resplendent red- 
gowned imposing graduate of our very own university and school.” 25 

Impressed by Elliot Smith, Dart made a vow: “Neurology — how the 
brain had come to be as we found it, could anything more be discov- 
ered about it and its workings? This had long since become my main 
life objective; and the dream-world already spontaneously fashioned 
was to join Dr Grafton Elliot Smith after the war years were over and 
to spend a lifetime alongside him finding out whatever one could, of 
what one needed to know about the head and its brain.” 26 Dart’s dream 
became real after he graduated from medical school in 1917 and served 
overseas in the Australian Army Medical Corps. Elliot Smith, who had 
moved to University College, London, was expanding the Department 
of Anatomy there and “shocked” Dart by appointing him to be his first 
senior demonstrator. 

In 1919, University College was coming into its heyday. With gen- 
erous support from the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States, 
new buildings were erected to enhance the medical sciences, and other 
facilities were enlarged. Elliot Smith was training a generation of young 
anatomists who eventually assumed key positions in far-off places such 
as Hong Kong and Beijing (then Peking). By 1922, he was also incremen- 
tally increasing the staff of the Department of Anatomy, where Dart 
had become a lecturer in histology and embryology. The comparative 
anatomical, osteological, and fossil collections in London were superb, 
as were the libraries. Dart recalled that 1922 was his happiest year at 
University College, because he had found an exciting new interest in 
anthropology. In his free time, he examined the comparative brain col- 
lection at the Royal College of Surgeons and was gradually drawn in 
by Elliot Smith’s efforts to make a new reconstruction of the Piltdown 
skull. 27 

In this exciting environment, Dart exercised his “unflinching forth- 
rightness” by advocating, along with his colleague and close friend 
Joseph Shellshear, heretical ideas about how nerve cells originate in 
embryos. Although these two established something of a reputation for 


14 / Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


being the department’s enfants terribles and some of Dart’s other early 
research contributed to an impression that he spurned authority, Dart 
loved his job. 28 His fascination with neuroanatomy grew, and he would 
later describe Elliot Smith as “the master, at whose feet I was privileged 
to sit.” 29 Another factor that contributed to Dart’s contentment was his 
marriage in 1921 to an American medical student named Dora Tyree. 

After having reached the zenith of his dreams and returning to 
London from a brief tour of Europe in 1922, however, Dart’s life took 
an unexpected and unwelcome turn. “This Elysium of an infinitude 
of neurological problems for settlement from the combined historical, 
embryological, histological, and gross comparative anatomical points 
of view, and with all the means of displaying them accumulating under 
itching fingers and brain, was rudely shattered ... by Elliot Smith’s seri- 
ous suggestion that I should apply for an anatomical chair fallen vacant 
in the newly-established University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, 
South Africa, whose name I had never heard previously. The very idea 
revolted me; I turned it down flat instantly.” 30 He later recalled, “This 
strange idea of taking up a post in South Africa spelt banishment to 
darkest, bleakest Africa with neither the libraries nor laboratories of 
Europe, for whose benefits I had deserted Australia.” 31 

Dart’s refusal to apply for the position startled Elliot Smith, who 
tried to persuade his protege of the opportunity. He urged Dart to con- 
sult with other colleagues, including the recently knighted Sir Arthur 
Keith, who might provide a more considered opinion. Out of respect for 
his mentor, Dart consented and met with “a strong unanimity of atti- 
tude. . . . Staying would be tantamount to a dereliction of duty. There 
was a dearth of British anatomists and Sydney was filling the gaps.” 32 
Dart reluctantly applied for the position. Perhaps hoping to weaken his 
chances, Dart described himself as a “freethinker” in response to a ques- 
tion about religion. When he showed Keith the application, the elder 
anatomist asked, “Do you think that wise? I believe the atmosphere 
in South Africa is strongly Calvinistic.” 33 Dart declined to amend his 
application but, to his dismay, got the job anyway. 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 15 


The Darts sailed for South Africa shortly before Christmas 1922 and 
arrived in late January, just before Raymond’s thirtieth birthday. The 
Medical School at the University of the Witwatersrand (affection- 
ately known, to this day, as Wits) fulfilled their worst expectations. 
It had a general air of dereliction and lacked water taps, electric out- 
lets, and gas and compressed air for laboratories. Dart’s permanent 
staff consisted of one person who worked in the basement mortuary. 
The dissecting tables supported desiccated corpses draped in coarse 
burlap coverings. “Our first inspection,” recalled Dart, “left my wife, 
whom I had taken from her medicine studies at Cincinnati, in tears — a 
woman’s prerogative I rather envied at that moment. ... It would be 
useless to deny that I was unhappy in the first 18 months. The abysmal 
lack of equipment and literature forced me to develop an interest in 
other subjects, particularly anthropology for which Elliot Smith had 
fired my enthusiasm.” 34 

Dart felt as though he had been banished to a dismal place by his 
mentor and by London’s anatomical aristocracy. Elliot Smith, on the 
other hand, was reveling “in his new role of king-maker,” after having 
already sent Joseph Shellshear to be chair of anatomy in Hong Kong 
and Davidson Black to China, where he would later discover the fossil 
known as Peking Man. 35 Packing Dart off to South Africa was consistent 
with this “missionary zeal.” 36 But Dart’s ill feelings were not without 
merit. Reflecting about writing a recommendation for Dart for the 
South African post, Sir Arthur Keith later recalled, “I did so, I am now 
free to confess, with a certain degree of trepidation. Of his knowledge, 
his power of intellect, and of imagination there could be no question; 
what rather frightened me was his flightiness, his scorn for accepted 
opinion, the unorthodoxy of his outlook.” 37 Years later, Dart himself 
seemed sympathetic to Keith’s view when he wrote in reference to an 
unorthodox publication on whale brains that he had authored in 1923, 
“Such a person, I can see now in retrospect, was not only controversial, 
but upsetting and potentially dangerous.” 38 

Even if it appeared to Dart that the Piltdown committee had arrayed 


1 6 / Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


themselves against him, he viewed Piltdown as a legitimate fossil. In 
the meantime, the pieces of Piltdown I and II and associated planted 
tools and fossilized animals that had been discovered over the course 
of eight years (1908-15) would severely impede the study of human evo- 
lution for decades to come. Much speculation has been made about 
what sort of person would perpetrate such a fraud. The culprit had to 
have been knowledgeable, motivated, and lacking in scruples — some- 
one selfish enough to rob prominent paleoanthropologists of time and 
effort by deliberately distracting them from more legitimate research. 
Ultimately, the perpetrator stole the self-respect of the supporters of 
Piltdown who lived long enough to learn that they had been duped. 

It has been widely accepted that Dawson himself played a major role 
in developing and perpetrating the Piltdown fraud. 19 For one thing, he 
was of questionable character, having been accused of “unblushingly” 
plagiarizing over half of two volumes about the history of Hastings 
Castle, which he had published two years before the announcement of 
Piltdown, as well as unethical behavior in an earlier real estate transac- 
tion. 40 More to the point, it was Dawson who discovered the Piltdown 
site and found most of its alleged fossils and artifacts. Such discoveries 
ceased after his death in 1916. 41 As for motive, Dawson’s desire to be 
elected as a fellow of the Royal Society, a leading scientific organization, 
was well known, and what better way to secure the necessary support 
from current fellows than by inviting them to study the most important 
human missing link ever discovered? Indeed, Dawson asked society fel- 
low Arthur Smith Woodward to reconstruct and interpret the Piltdown 
skull. Woodward returned the favor by proposing the scientific name 
Eoanthropus dawsoni when the Piltdown discovery was announced in 1912 
and, two years later, by signing a certificate of candidacy for Dawson to 
stand for election to the Royal Society. (The certificate had the support 
of other Royal Society fellows and was renewed annually until Dawson’s 
death in 1916. Had he lived longer, “there is every reason to suppose 
that ... he would have been duly elected — an eventuality that would 
have been based almost entirely on his achievements at Piltdown.”) 42 


Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links / 17 


Scholars have been divided on the question of whether Dawson acted 
alone or had one or more accomplices in the forgery. 45 Over the years, 
at least 21 individuals have been identified as suspected accomplices, 
including the French priest Teilhard de Chardin and the celebrated cre- 
ator of detective Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle. Most of these 
individuals are no longer serious suspects. 44 A more recent revelation 
has pointed in the direction of Martin Hinton, a volunteer in the British 
Museum of Natural History at the time of the incident. 45 Hinton, who 
specialized in studying fossil rodents and was known to have a keen 
interest in hoaxes, joined the staff of the museum’s zoology department 
in 1921 and rose to the rank of keeper of zoology by 1936. In 1978, 17 years 
after Hinton’s death, a trunk bearing his initials was found in the loft 
above his old office. Ten mammalian bones that had been stained and 
(in some cases) whittled in the same fashion as the Piltdown bones lay 
at the bottom of the trunk. Hinton’s estate also yielded remains of eight 
human teeth that had been stained with a second method used to alter 
some of the Piltdown remains. 46 

It has been suggested that Hinton’s deception was motivated by a 
desire to validate his beliefs about the nature of the earliest stone tools 
(called eoliths at that time) as well as to settle a grudge he may have 
held against Arthur Smith Woodward, who had been invited to provide 
the official study of the Piltdown specimen. 47 Hinton knew Dawson 
well enough to have visited his house and had frequented Piltdown 
on weekends during the period it was being excavated. Thus, it seems 
very likely that Dawson and Hinton coperpetrated the Piltdown forg- 
ery. 48 This interpretation is consistent with a letter that Hinton wrote 
on May 11, 1955, to Joseph Weiner, the lead author of the paper that 
eventually exposed the hoax: “I think the original discovery of the skull 
by the workmen was very likely genuine — but the rest was a practical 
joke which succeeded only too well.” 49 The original discovery to which 
Hinton referred, however, contains a clue in the form of the so-called 
coconut story, 50 which suggests that the Piltdown affair may have been 
a bad practical joke right from the beginning: 


i8 / Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links 


Evidently, sometime in 1908, while working the gravel bed at Barkham Manor, 
an object resembling a “coconut” was accidently shattered by a labourer’s 
pickaxe. A fragment of the “coconut” was retrieved and later handed to Daw- 
son who identified it as a portion of a thick human cranium (left parietal) 

According to Dawson’s recollection of this venture, they found only “pieces 
of dark brown ironstone closely resembling the piece of skull.” 51 

Could it be that the perpetrator^) of the hoax set out to emulate or 
mock the discovery of another missing link, Pithecanthropus erectus, some 
17 years earlier by another crew in other gravel beds, that time along the 
Solo River in Java? There, in October 1891, workmen 

turned up a strange bone; it was about the size of a large coconut — not the 
green outer part, but the dense, hairy seed itself — and it was similar in shape 
to half of a coconut that had been split longitudinally, except that the fossil 
was more pear-shaped than ovoid. ... It was a dark rich chocolate brown in 
colour and thoroughly fossilized, heavy with the stony matrix that encrusted 
many surfaces. . . . They packed the fossil . . . with the others from the last 
few weeks’ work, and sent it off to Dubois. 52 

This possibility fits with the suggestion that doctored artifacts that were 
salted in the Piltdown gravels, such as an elephant bone that had been 
carved to look like a cricket bat (“a fitting accoutrement for the ‘first 
Englishman’”), were part of an elaborate joke gone awry. 53 

Certainly, the Piltdown committee was well aware that Pithecanthropus 
was considered by many to be a missing link that bridged the gap 
between apes and humans when the Piltdown “coconut” was discovered 
around 1908. In fact, Arthur Keith, at the dawn of his career, was present 
when Dubois defended his interpretation of Pithecanthropus at a meet- 
ing of the Royal Dublin Society on November 20, 1895, where he was 
“the only scientist to come close to wholeheartedly endorsing Dubois’s 
interpretation.” 54 (Keith would later change his mind by favoring big- 
brained Piltdown Man as the direct ancestor of modern humans to the 
exclusion of Pithecanthropus , whom he relegated to a “small-brained . . . 
survival from some earlier phase of evolution.”) 55 Keith and two other 
members of the Piltdown committee, Grafton Elliot Smith and Arthur 


OfPaleopolitics and Missing Links / 19 


Smith Woodward, also attended the Fourth International Congress of 
Zoology in Cambridge, England, during the summer of 1898, where 
Dubois defended his missing link and presented detailed new informa- 
tion about Pithecanthropus s skullcap and brain. 56 It therefore seems likely 
that they and others who attended the congress (possibly including 
Dawson and Hinton) were aware of the history behind Dubois’s discov- 
ery, including the “coconut” story. 

The Piltdown incident exposed a tendency among supposedly ob- 
jective evolutionary scientists to pressure one another into accepting 
mainstream (or what they hoped would become mainstream) views. 
Thinking too freely was frowned upon, as Raymond Dart would soon 
learn. As he and Dora spent that bleak Christmas of 1922 journeying to 
South Africa, Dart had no way of knowing that his unorthodoxy and 
outspokenness would unleash an intense controversy over a new discov- 
ery that was destined to rile the Piltdown committee and become the 
most important anthropological fossil of the twentieth century. 


TWO 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdown 


Circumstances thrust anthropology upon me after I had 
chosen to follow even more useless trails as a neurological 
embryologist. 

Raymond Dart 


Not one to dwell upon life’s disappointments, Dart began improving the 
abysmal conditions in the Department of Anatomy at Wits as soon as 
he and Dora had settled in Johannesburg. In order to assemble an anat- 
omy museum with bones and fossils of various animals, Dart offered a 
prize of five pounds to the student who collected the most interesting 
specimens during the July 1924 vacation. Although the students did not 
award the prize to the most avid collector, Josephine Salmons, she later 
brought Dart a rare monkey fossil that ultimately led to a much richer 
prize. The little baboon skull had been blasted from a limestone site at 
Taungs (now called Taung), in the northern Transvaal region of South 
Africa. Eventually, it fell into the hands of the director of the Northern 
Lime Company, Mr. Izod, who took it home. When Salmons happened 
to see the fossil, she asked if she could borrow it to show her professor. 1 

Dart was excited by the little skull, because it appeared to be from an 
unrecognized primitive species. Within minutes of Salmons’ visit, Dart 
recalled, he was careening down the hill in his Model-T Ford to discuss 
the skull with the chairman of geology, Robert Young. 2 Since Young 
had work scheduled near the Northern Lime Company, he agreed to 
drop by to request that other bone-bearing rocks and fossils be sent to 


20 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoron / 


21 


Dart. In November 1924, Young inspected the site where the baboon 
skull had been found. He selected additional fossils and rocks recovered 
from the same formation by a quarryman by the name of de Bruyn, who 
had a particularly good eye for fossils. 3 A large natural cast of the inside 
of a braincase (an endocranial cast, or endocast, that resembles a brain) 
and some separate rocks that were embedded with fragments of bone 
were among the specimens that Young chose. At his request, they were 
sent to Dart. 

In his 1959 memoir, Dart vividly recalled the momentous day in 
November 1924 when he was standing by a window in his dressing 
room, struggling to put on a stiff-winged collar in preparation for the 
wedding of C.F. Beyers and Mira Rivet, which was to take place in his 
home. He spied two men from the South African Railways staggering 
up his driveway with two large wooden boxes. Because this “delightful 
and racy account” is one of the most engaging and romantic descrip- 
tions ever written about an anthropological discovery, 4 I quote it here 
at some length: 

My Virginia-born wife Dora . . . had noticed the men with the boxes and 
rushed in to me in something of a panic. “I suppose those are the fossils 
you’ve been expecting,” she said. “Why on earth did they have to arrive 
today of all days?” She fixed me with a business-like eye. “Now Raymond,” 
she pleaded, “the guests will start arriving shortly and you can’t go delving 
in all that rubble until the wedding’s over”. . . . My wife had made the most 
elaborate arrangements possible for the reception . . . and had gone to spe- 
cial pains to ensure that my London-cut morning clothes were extracted 
from brown paper and mothballs, and that in general my normally casual 
appearance would be smartened up so as not to disgrace my role as best 
man. At the time, however, this seemed of little importance when I con- 
sidered the exciting anthropological bits and pieces that the boxes from 
Taungs might contain. As soon as my wife had left to complete her dressing 
I tore the hated collar off and dashed out to take delivery of the boxes. . . . 

Impatiently I wrestled with the lid of the second box . . . little guessing 
that from this crate was to emerge a face that would look out on the world 
after an age-long sleep of nearly a million years. As soon as I removed 
the lid a thrill of excitement shot through me. On the very top of the rock 


22 / Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm 


heap was what was undoubtedly an endocranial cast or mold of the interior 
of the skull. Had it been only the fossilized brain cast of any species of 
ape it would have ranked as a great discovery, for such a thing had never 
before been reported. . . . Was there, anywhere among this pile of rocks, a 
face to fit the brain? I ransacked feverishly through the boxes. My search 
was rewarded, for I found a large stone with a depression into which the 
cast fitted perfectly. ... I stood in the shade holding the brain as greedily 
as any miser hugs his gold. . . . Here, I was certain, was one of the most 
significant finds ever made in the history of anthropology. . . . These pleas- 
ant daydreams were interrupted by the bridegroom himself tugging at my 
sleeve. “My God, Ray,” he said, striving to keep the nervous urgency out of 
his voice. “You’ve got to finish dressing ." 5 

Despite this wonderful account, it was later suggested by Sir Arthur 
Keith that Young personally carried the large endocast and piece of 
rock that was embedded with bone and hand-delivered it to Dart, while 
the other specimens were sent by rail . 6 This is questionable, however. 
Although Young became very concerned about clarifying his role in dis- 
covering the crucial endocast and hunk of rock, he made no mention of 
having hand-carried them to Dart in a letter that he wrote to him to set 
the record straight . 7 Instead, Young wrote, “As you are aware, the part I 
played ... in the actual finding of the skull was to select, amongst other 
specimens, the piece of rock containing it from some fragments of rocks 
and minerals laid aside in the quarry by the quarryman (de Bruyn?) in 
view of my arrival. ... As to whether under the circumstances I could be 
said to have ‘found’ the skull, there might be different opinions. . . . On 
referring to the text of the [newspaper] report ... I find that the phrase 
used is ‘got possession of, which is beyond cavil .” 8 

Dart’s recollection was that all of the specimens were sent to him by 
train: “When Young mentioned my interest to Mr. Spiers [a manager 
at the Northern Lime Company], Spiers gave instructions for them to 
be boxed and railed to me .” 9 Some believe this later recollection con- 
flicted with Dart’s earlier comment that the endocast and pieces of rock 
were “brought back by Prof Young .” 10 However, Young had taken a train 
to visit the Northern Lime Company, and it is possible that the two 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm / 23 


boxes were sent as luggage on his return trip to Johannesburg. “Young 
might have arranged for the heavy boxes of breccia to be delivered 
from the . . . Railway Station to Dart’s house by the Railways delivery 
service.” 11 If so, the specimens could be accurately described as having 
been “brought back” by Young. 12 

In an effort to further clarify Young’s role in the discovery of Taung, 
I searched the announcements under “Social and Personal” in Johan- 
nesburg’s main newspaper, the Star, around the date of the wedding 
(November 28, 1924), to see if he had perhaps been among the guests. 
All that I found was a brief announcement on page 13 of the December 4 
edition that stated, “Dr. C.F. Beyers ofjohannesburg was married qui- 
etly to Miss Mera [sic] Rivet at Johannesburg on Friday last. Dr. Beyers 
is one of the examiners in the Medical Faculty of the University of 
Capetown.” 

In any event, Dart acknowledged the contribution of Young (and 
others) in his original publication: “I desire to place on record my 
indebtedness to Miss Salmons, Prof Young, and Mr. Campbell [gen- 
eral manager of the Northern Lime Company], without whose aid the 
discovery would not have been made.” 13 Nor did he forget his indebted- 
ness. Thirty-four years after his initial publication about Taung, Dart 
corroborated his earlier reports about the role that his “friend and col- 
league, Dr. R. B. Young, a veteran Scottish geologist,” had played at the 
end of 1924 when he visited the limestone works at Taungs, called on 
Spiers to ask that further bone-bearing rocks be sent to Dart, and met 
de Bruyn and asked that, among others, the crucial endocast and stone 
block be sent to Dart. 14 


WHAT ENDOCASTS ARE 
AND WHY THEY MATTER 

As noted, the term endocast is short for “endocranial cast,” which refers 
to a cast of the inside of an animal’s braincase. On rare occasions, endo- 
casts occur naturally when skulls fill up with sediments and become 


24 / Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm 


fossilized, as happened with Taung. One can also make an artificial 
endocast by coating the interior of a braincase with a thin layer of liquid 
latex, then curing it until the liquid dries. In either case, the result is a 
cast that reproduces the general shape of the brain as well as any details 
of the brain’s exterior (the cerebral cortex) that were stamped on the 
insides of the braincase during the animal’s life. 

That brains leave impressions within the skull may seem odd, but 
they do to a greater or lesser degree, depending on a specimen’s age, 
species, and extent of preservation. Although the skeletons we see in 
laboratories are dry, brittle, and inert, those of living animals build up 
deposits of bone in response to specific pressures and strains. (Living 
bone also becomes thinner if stresses are removed.) This is why the bro- 
ken bones of an arm, for example, must be properly aligned and secured, 
so that the limb can mend in a relatively straight rather than a crooked 
manner. It is also why visible ridges of bone appear on the outsides of 
skulls where the attachments of chewing muscles exert pressures. 

During life, the interior of the braincase responds dynamically to 
pressure from the brain, which results in alterations of its bony walls that 
conform (more or less) to the brain’s shape. Thus, with luck, an endocast 
can reveal information about brain size, blood vessels and sinuses, cra- 
nial nerves, grooves and bumps of the cerebral cortex (the all-important 
sulci and gyri, respectively), and even the sutures where the bones of 
the skull are knitted together. What an endocast cannot reveal, however, 
are details about the structures and connections between the cells (neu- 
rons) of the cerebral cortex or information about the important regions 
beneath the brain’s surface. What one gets from an endocast is simply a 
reproduction of some of the details of the brain’s surface. 

This is not so bad, however, because the outside of the brain is the 
most important part for studying the evolution of human intelligence 
and cognition, including aspects of awareness, knowing, thinking, judg- 
ing, and learning. Remarkably, although to the untrained eye the con- 
volutions of the cerebral cortex may appear like a mishmash of squiggly 
bumps, those swellings of gray matter are where we do our conscious 


Tatmg: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoron / 25 


thinking and problem solving. In keeping with their extraordinary cog- 
nitive abilities, humans have larger and more convoluted cerebral cor- 
tices than the other primates. Nevertheless, the basic organization of 
the entire cerebrum, including its arrangement of the major parts of the 
brain (lobes and the fissures that separate them), is similar in monkeys, 
apes, and people (figure 2). 

How, exactly, the human brain works is becoming better under- 
stood because of medical imaging instruments that permit researchers 
to identify parts of the brain that become activated when individuals 
experience specific thoughts or sensations (for example, machines that 
use functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] or positron emis- 
sion tomography [PET]). From such studies, it is clear that thinking 
is a highly dynamic affair that involves multiple areas of the cerebral 
cortex — no matter how simple the particular thought or action is. In 
other words, one usually cannot point to a particular convolution and 
say that this bump contributes exclusively to such-and-such an activity. 
Although this might appear to be bad news for endocast enthusiasts, 
expansions of parts of the cerebral cortex can, nevertheless, be informa- 
tive, because, as shown in figure 2, certain regions are, broadly speaking, 
associated with functions such as seeing, hearing, experiencing sensa- 
tions from different parts of the body, moving those parts, planning 
what to do next, understanding and producing speech (in humans), and 
so on. 

Primates and other mammals share an overall similarity in the gen- 
eral organization of their brains, including cortical representations of 
sensory and motor functions of the body in appropriate anatomical 
sequences (i.e., similar to the schematic in figure 2). Significantly, if a 
particular part of a species’ anatomy is especially important for its life- 
style, the amount of cerebral cortex representing that part of the body 
is likely to be enlarged. In dramatic incidences, this sometimes happens 
to such an extent that localized expansions, or even new sulci, occur on 
the brain . 15 For example, the sensory representations for the individual 
digits of raccoons’ forepaws are greatly enlarged on their brains and are 



Figure 2. Simplified schematic of the left side of a human 
cerebrum. The four lobes and regions that are generally 
associated with certain functions are labeled. The cartoon 
figure (called a homunculus) is half in the frontal and half 
in the parietal lobe. It provides a point-to-point map super- 
imposed on the areas of the brain that process certain sensory 
and motor activities on the opposite (right) side of the body 
(except for the face, which is largely represented by both sides 
of the brain). The part of the homunculus in the frontal lobe 
(labeled “moving”) facilitates movements; the part in the 
parietal lobe (labeled “sensing”) receives sensory information 
about touch, temperature, pain, and body position. Notice 
that the hands and feet are all from the right side of the body. 
Thus, a pinched right thumb is perceived in the thumb region 
near “sensing,” while wiggling the right thumb is facilitated 
by the thumb representation in the “moving” region. The 
detached structure below the mouth is the tongue. The rep- 
resentations of the legs and feet are simplified for illustrative 
purposes. Normally, they would extend farther over the edge 
into the unseen regions at the top middle of the brain. All of 
the labeled activities except speaking are facilitated by both 
sides of the brain. 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoron / 27 


even separated by little sulci, which reflects the extraordinary degree 
to which these animals use their forepaws to explore the environment . 16 
Similarly, those monkeys from the New World that have grasping and 
highly manipulative tails have tail representations that are so expanded 
that they sometimes form extra convolutions , 17 a feature that has been 
observed on their endocasts as well as their brains . 18 Another function- 
ally significant modification that appears on some monkey endocasts is 
the extraordinary hook-shaped sulcus in gelada baboons that seems to 
be related to enlarged face representations that facilitate this species’ 
amazing ability to flip its upper lip over its nose . 19 

Humans, of course, do not have prehensile tails or engage in making 
faces that entail lip-flips. We do, however, use our hands extensively, 
which is reflected in the relatively large size of the little homunculus’s 
hands in figure 2. We have also evolved highly rich symbolic language, 
which sets us apart from all other animals. Interestingly, language func- 
tions are represented mostly on the left side of the human brain, and the 
“speaking” area labeled in figure 2 (known as Broca’s speech area) has 
a distinctive arrangement of sulci that is unique to humans. Although 
language origins is a highly controversial subject, analyses of hominin 
endocasts have led scientists who study brain evolution (paleoneurolo- 
gists) to conclude that the convolutions associated with Broca’s speech 
area began to evolve a very long time ago . 20 

Nevertheless, endocasts of primates vary enormously in the amount 
of anatomical detail they reproduce. Sometimes they reveal little, if 
anything, about the brain’s all-important convolutions and the sulcal 
grooves that separate them — especially in bigger-brained species such 
as Homo sapiens. Although endocasts of smaller-brained species, like the 
one that Dart discovered, are likely to show more detail, the amount 
of information they provide is still subject to a good deal of variation. 
There is, thus, a huge element of luck involved in studying hominin 
endocasts. When it comes to studying the cerebral cortex, endocasts 
simply are not as revealing as actual brains. In the fossil record, how- 
ever, endocasts are all that we’ve got (at least, until the time machine is 


28 / Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm 


invented). The goal of paleoneurology, therefore, is to try to interpret 
something about mental functions from whatever information can be 
gleaned from them. A tall order, that. 

Paleoneurologists are sometimes unkindly accused of practicing the 
pseudoscience of phrenology, which was popular in Europe and the 
United States in the nineteenth century but has now been thoroughly 
debunked. Phrenologists carried the concept of localized brain func- 
tions to an extreme, believing that the size and shape of different parts 
of a person’s cerebral cortex were proportionate to specific skills and 
personality traits. They thought, rather whimsically, that an individ- 
ual’s tendencies for mirthfulness, benevolence, spirituality, secretive- 
ness, and combativeness, to name just a few of many examples, could 
be assessed by feeling the size and shape of the parts of the skull that 
overlaid the so-called organs in the brain for each of these proclivi- 
ties. Admittedly, today’s paleoneurologists share, to some degree, the 
phrenologists’ goal of assessing mental functions from skulls, albeit 
from casts of their interiors rather than from bumps on their exteriors. 
Paleoneurologists, however, ground their observations and analyses in 
scientific findings from evolutionary biology, paleontology, and neurol- 
ogy. Caution is called for, of course, but the above discussion shows that 
endocasts have potential for contributing to our understanding of brain 
evolution. 


dart’s uncovery 

Phillip Tobias, one of the world’s leading paleoanthropologists and 
Dart’s eventual successor as chair of anatomy at the University of Wit- 
watersrand, points out that there was no single discoverer of the Taung 
fossil; instead, a chain of discovery connected de Bruyn, Izod, Salmons, 
Campbell, Spiers, Robert Young, and, of course, Dart . 21 But what was 
at least as important as the discovery was the painstaking extraction 
of the fossil’s face and lower jaw from the rocky matrix that entombed 
them. That was Dart’s doing alone, as were the description, interpreta- 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoivn / 29 


tion, and publication of the little endocast and skull in a landmark paper 
that appeared in the leading British scientific journal, Nature , on Febru- 
ary 7, 1925. 22 

As Dart saw from the start, the broken front end of the endocast fit per- 
fectly into one of the rock fragments that also revealed a tantalizing bit 
of lower jaw, which presumably belonged with the endocast. Hoping that 
the rocky matrix also contained a face, Dart worked laboriously to free 
its bony contents. His tools were a hammer, chisels, and his wife’s knit- 
ting needles, which were used to peck and scrape the lime-consolidated 
earth from the encased bones. When the outer sides of the upper and 
lower jaws were finally exposed, Dart was convinced that the fossil’s face 
would also emerge. “No diamond cutter,” recalled Dart, “ever worked 
more lovingly or with such care on a priceless jewel — nor I am sure, with 

such inadequate tools On December 23, the rock parted What 

emerged was a baby’s face, an infant with a full set of milk (or deciduous) 
teeth and its first permanent molars just in the process of erupting. I 
doubt if there was any parent prouder of his offspring than I was of my 
‘Taungs baby’ on that Christmas of 1924.” 23 

As he analyzed his find, Dart realized that no one had ever before set 
eyes on such a fossil (figures 3 and 4). Dart estimated from the teeth that, 
rather than actually being a baby, the individual had died at around six 
years of age. (Using different methods, scientists today believe an esti- 
mate of about three and a half years is more likely.) The skull revealed 
an unprecedented combination of humanlike and apelike features. Like 
humans and unlike apes, it had a rising forehead, round eye sockets, and 
a short nose. It also lacked an apelike ridge of bone (brow ridge) over the 
eyes. However, the bottom of the nose resembled that of a chimpanzee, 
and the lower part of the face protruded, as is typical of apes, but to a 
lesser degree. Most of the features of the jaws and teeth that could be 
seen (the upper and lower jaws had not yet been separated) resembled 
those of humans rather than apes. For example, the canines were small, 
and the inside of the lower jaw lacked a bony shelf that appears in apes. 
The brain, however, was the size of a chimpanzee brain, and this could 


30 / Taung- A Fossil to Rival Piltdo'wn 



Figure 3. An early photograph of Raymond Dart with the Taung fossil. 
Photograph courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 
South Africa; photographer unknown. 


not be attributed to the specimen’s youth, because brains grow to nearly 
their adult size within the first few years of life. 

Although Dart had uncovered a clear candidate for a missing link 
in human evolution, he carefully avoided that term in the report he 
fervently prepared for Nature at the end of 1924. Taking a conservative 
approach, he decided to describe the fossil as a “man-ape” rather than 
an “ape-man,” which was used to describe the relatively advanced and 
more recent remains of Pithecanthropus erectus that had been discovered 
in Java. 24 As Dart noted, “All the previous major anthropological dis- 
coveries had been primitive men like Neanderthal Man . . . and the still 
more primitive Java Man (Pithecanthropus). They had been proved to be 
men with apelike features. Australopithecus was the reverse — an ape with 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoron / 31 



Figure 4. Taung’s face, lower jaw, and natural endocast viewed from the right 
side. Courtesy of Bernhard Zipfel, the University of the Witwatersrand. 


human features .” 25 Despite his caution in this matter, Dart was aware 
that Taung was extremely different from living apes, not only because 
of its intermediary features, but also because the central location where 
the spinal cord entered the bottom of the skull suggested a humanlike 
habit of walking on two legs rather than using all four limbs, as apes do 
on the ground. 

One of Dart’s most significant observations was that Taung lived 
nearly 2,000 miles south of the luxuriant forests where contemporary 
chimpanzees and gorillas live, which he thought indicated increased 



32 / Taung- A Fossil to Rival Piltdown 


intelligence and mastery over “a vast open country with occasional 
wooded belts and a relative scarcity of water, together with a fierce and 
bitter mammalian competition ... a laboratory such as was essential to 
this penultimate phase of human evolution .” 26 Because of Pithecanthropus 
from Java, many scientists had long held that the human line originated 
in Asia, while the Piltdown committee was currently hedging its bets 
in favor of a British cradle for humanity. In his report, Dart noted that 
none other than Charles Darwin had theorized that our earliest precur- 
sors originated in Africa, a view supported by Taung . 27 Because Taung’s 
skull differed so much from those of previous discoveries and because it 
had come from the Southern Hemisphere rather than the tropics, Dart 
placed it in a new genus and species, Australopithecus africanus ( australis , 
“south”; pithecus, “ape”), which means “southern ape from Africa.” He was 
being very cautious about this and, remarkably, would make a case that 
Taung’s skull appeared intermediary between those of apes and humans, 
although he would later maintain that he “did not, when naming it, claim 
it was an ape-man, missing link, or anything other than an ape .” 28 

Dart’s conservatism in his report stemmed in part from his “half- 
anticipating the skepticism with which it would be greeted .” 26 Imagine 
his situation! There he was in South Africa, thinking he had been ban- 
ished from London two years earlier by Britain’s eminencies of anatomy, 
and into his hands falls a fossil bound to challenge his former colleagues’ 
pet theories. Taung turned up in the wrong place — Africa instead of 
Asia, mainland Europe, or Great Britain. Unlike Piltdown Man’s, which 
was then thought to be the oldest and most important early fossil on 
the line leading to humans, Taung’s jaws were humanlike rather than 
apelike. And unlike Piltdown’s, Taung’s brain was ape-sized rather than 
human-sized . 20 Dart knew that his discovery was going to be revolution- 
ary: “I worked away happily,” he wrote, “and, I am not ashamed to say, 
proudly. I was aware of a sense of history for, by the sheerest good luck, 
I had been given the opportunity to provide what would probably be 
the ultimate answer in the comparatively modern study of the evolution 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm / 33 


of man.” 31 Dart worked in isolation and planned, apparently, to spring 
Taung on his old colleagues — not to mention the rest of the world. 

Dart dispatched his report to Nature in time to catch the mailboat 
to England on January 6, 1925, and it reached the editor’s desk byjanu- 
ary 30. 32 As he waited for a response, Dart’s anticipation and excitement 
got the best of him, and he confided to Mr. Paver, the news editor of the 
Johannesburg Star, that he might “have something of worldwide signifi- 
cance connected with man’s origin to announce shortly.” 33 As Dart later 
explained, “Paver’s long, wistful look mixed with my own pride — or 
vanity — and an overwhelming impulse to confide in somebody who 
combined interest with understanding, loosened my tongue a little.” 34 
After Paver promised that nothing would appear in the until Nature 
published the report, Dart gave him a full account of the discovery and 
photographs. 

Dart believed that the report would be published in Nature near the 
end ofjanuary, and no later than February 3. 35 Accordingly, a lead story 
was prepared in advance for the Star. As the date approached, the Star 
learned that, because the discovery was so unprecedented, Nature had 
referred the report to experts in England to seek opinions on whether 
or not it should be published. (Although it may not have been so then, 
this review process by academic peers is standard practice today at 
Nature and other high-caliber science journals.) Paver, with Dart’s bless- 
ing, informed Nature that the Star intended to release the story in the 
evening paper of February 3. (This would not be a successful ploy today, 
because Nature has very strict rules about “embargoing” reports of other 
media until the articles have been published in the journal.) Nature, 
nonetheless, delayed publication until February 7, and the Star pub- 
lished a phenomenal scoop on February 3, which was picked up the next 
morning by newspapers around the globe. That happened to be Dart’s 
32nd birthday, and, overnight, he had become world famous! 36 

Although Dart worried about the reception Taung might receive, he 
clearly had not been that worried. Perhaps he thought his assessment of 


34 / Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdown 


Taung’s endocast would be sufficient to convince Grafton Elliot Smith 
of the legitimacy of his claims and that others would then follow suit. 
After all, Dart had learned to identify and interpret the grooves, bumps, 
and convolutions on endocasts of various animals, including primates, 
by studying for four years under Elliot Smith, the world’s foremost 
authority on the subject. Indeed, when Dart interpreted Taung’s endo- 
cast, he strongly invoked his mentor’s own theory about human brain 
evolution. But if Dart believed that would save Taung (and himself) 
from a whirlwind of controversy, he was mistaken. 

dart’s interpretation of the endocast 

Workmen who were quarrying for lime blasted Taung out of limestone 
cliffs that contained passages and caves. Because of South Africa’s propi- 
tious geological conditions, Taung’s endocast formed naturally, which 
does not happen in most parts of the world. 37 As Dart envisioned it, after 
the child died its skull rested on its right side, and once the soft tissues 
had disappeared, the cranial cavity partly filled with sand mostly on the 
right. Later, the sand became packed and fossilized as it was covered by 
percolating lime that formed a crystalline deposit on the inner surface 
of the endocast. 38 The resulting natural endocast revealed exquisite 
details of the right half of the cerebral cortex (outermost layer of the 
brain that is responsible for conscious thinking and movements) and 
the underlying cerebellum (which is important for coordinating move- 
ments), which had been imprinted on the walls of the braincase when 
Taung was alive. The endocast looked very much like the right half of 
an actual brain, and, from it, Dart inferred that the volume of Taung’s 
braincase, or cranial capacity (a proxy for brain size), was 520 cm 3 , which 
was within the range for great apes. 3 '' He also noted that the proportion 
of cerebral cortex compared with the cerebellum was greater than an 
ape’s and that Taung’s endocast was much narrower and higher-domed. 40 

The surface of an ape’s brain typically has a large groove, or sulcus, 
that borders the front end of the visual area, which was traditionally 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdoron / 35 




Figure 5. On the left is the right side of Taung’s face and endocast, showing 
Dart’s identification of the lunate and superior temporal (parallel) sulci from 
his 1925 report in Nature. Hatched areas were damaged on the endocast; “chip” 
refers to an adhering piece of bone. On the right is a chimpanzee brain (with 
lunate sulcus darkened) for comparison. Notice the greater distance between 
the two named sulci in Taung than in the chimpanzee. 


known as the Affenspalte, or “ape-fissure” (see right side of figure 5). 
However, more than 20 years before Taung was discovered, Elliot Smith 
had changed the name of this sulcus, because he believed that he 
detected a similar one in humans, but one that was located consider- 
ably farther back on the brain. 41 He therefore gave the sulcus a more 
inclusive name that refers to its typical crescent-shape, which is why the 
Affenspalte became widely known as the lunate sulcus (figure 5). 42 This 
was not, however, a mere exercise in naming. Elliot Smith theorized 
that the visual cortex migrated posteriorly during human brain evolu- 
tion as areas in front of it enlarged to integrate information from seeing, 
hearing, touch, movement, and memory. (Today, scientists agree that 
the development of such regions, known as association cortices, was 
undoubtedly important for the evolution of higher cognition in humans.) 
Elliot Smith, thus, concluded that the distance between the anterior 
border of the visual cortex (i.e., the lunate sulcus) and a groove known 


36 / Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdown 


as the superior temporal (or parallel) sulcus (figure 5) is much greater in 
humans than in apes because of Homo sapiens’s greatly expanded parieto- 
occipito-temporal association cortex. 

Taking his mentor’s theory very much to heart, Dart identified what 
he thought was a lunate sulcus on Taung’s endocast. Despite Taung’s 
tiny brain size, he believed that the lunate sulcus was located far back 
in a (supposedly) humanlike position and that this indicated enhanced 
intelligence in Australopithecus (see figure 6): 

This group of beings . . . had profited beyond living anthropoids by setting 
aside a relatively much larger area of the cerebral cortex to serve as a store- 
house of information concerning their objective environment as its details 
were simultaneously revealed to the senses of vision and touch, and also of 
hearing. They possessed to a degree unappreciated by living anthropoids 
the use of their hands and ears and the consequent faculty of associating 
with the colour, form, and general appearance of objects, their weight, tex- 
ture, resilience, and flexibility, as well as the significance of sounds emitted 
by them. In other words, their eyes saw, their ears heard, and their hands 
handled objects with greater meaning and to fuller purpose than the corre- 
sponding organs in recent apes. They had laid down the foundations of that 
discriminative knowledge of the appearance, feeling, and sound of things 
that was a necessary milestone in the acquisition of articulate speech. 43 

Despite these accolades, Dart did not think that Australopithecus had 
evolved to the point of having language, because Taung’s endocast was 
not expanded in a particular part of the temporal lobe (which processes 
hearing, memory, and certain aspects of vision). This was, in fact, a 
major reason why he regarded Taung as a man-ape rather than a true 
human, although he proposed that Australopithecus should be put in a 
new zoological family. 44 

Dart’s belief that Taung was intellectually advanced compared with 
living apes rested squarely on his identification of the lunate sulcus. I 
have gone into some detail about this particular sulcus because it is a 
piece of evidence that will recur in discussions about my own efforts to 
understand its significance for Taung and, later, for Hobbit. Meanwhile, 


Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovin j 37 


parallel sulcus feeling movement 



Figure 6. Dart’s identifications of the lunate sulcus and certain func- 
tional areas on Taring’s endocast. The air-brushed region represents 
parieto-occipito-temporal association cortex, which Dart thought 
was greatly enlarged compared with that of apes (figure modified, 
including a thickened lunate sulcus, after an illustration from Dart’s 
1959 memoirs). The labels reflect Dart’s terminology. Today, “feeling” 
would be replaced with “sensation” (e.g., pain, temperature, touch), 
and memory is no longer thought to be localized, as Dart depicted. 


back on Dart’s 32nd birthday, he was eager, and a little apprehensive, to 
know what members of the Piltdown committee, including his mentor, 
would think of his impending report in Nature. Would his identification 
of Taung’s lunate sulcus in a posterior (supposedly humanlike) position 
lure them away from their conviction that the oldest missing link was 
an Englishman? Dart would soon find out. 


38 / Taung- A Fossil to Rival Piltdoivn 


THE IMMEDIATE REACTION 

At first blush, the response seemed okay. Three days after the Star’s 
scoop, Sir Arthur Keith (from the Piltdown committee) was quoted offer- 
ing high (and, as it turned out, prophetic) praise: “Professor Dart deserves 

great credit He has certainly lived up to the opinion we formed of 

him here. . . . Dart’s discovery [is] so important ... I hardly hoped it 
would be made. Now I feel South Africa will produce other valuable 
evidence of the march from monkeydom to mandom .” 45 Congratulatory 
cables arrived from all over the world, and one of the earliest ones was 
from Elliot Smith, who conveyed congratulations from himself and his 
staff at University College, London. To Dart’s delight, Elliot Smith also 
informed the Illustrated London News that it was a “happy circumstance” 
that the Taung fossil had fallen into Dart’s hands, “because he is one of, 
at the most, three or four men in the world who have had experience of 
investigating such material and appreciating its meaning .” 46 

It must have been pleasantly dizzying for Dart to bask in positive 
responses from South African dignitaries, officials of the University of 
Witwatersrand (which he had just made world-famous), and internation- 
ally renowned scientists, such as Ales Hrdlicka, from the Smithsonian 
Institution in Washington, D.C. Flattering newspaper editorials were 
written about him and his discovery, and, ironically (for reasons that I 
will reveal later), he received multiple offers of book contracts. One of 
the letters that meant the most to Dart was from General Jan Christiaan 
Smuts, who had recently completed his first term as prime minister of 
South Africa . 47 The letter read in part: 

I wish personally as President of the South African Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Science to send you my warm congratulations on your impor- 
tant discovery of the Taungs fossil. Your great keenness and zealous interest 
in anthropology have led to what may well prove an epoch-making discov- 
ery, not only of far-reaching importance from an anthropological point of 
view, but also calculated to concentrate attention on South Africa as the great 
field for scientific discovery which it undoubtedly is. ... I congratulate you on 
this great reward of your labours which reflects luster on all South Africa. 48 


Tatmg: A Fossil to Rival Piltdovm / 39 


Another letter of congratulations came from Robert Broom, the cel- 
ebrated Scottish-born physician and paleontologist who had traveled 
the world collecting fossils before settling in South Africa. Two weeks 
after receiving his letter, Dart, who had not known Broom personally, 
was surprised when Broom burst into his laboratory unannounced: 
“Ignoring me and my staff, he strode over to the bench on which the 
skull reposed and dropped on his knees ‘in adoration of our ancestor,’ 
as he put it. He stayed with us over the week-end and spent almost the 
entire time studying the skull. Having satisfied himself that my claims 
were correct, he never wavered.” 49 As the first serious scientist to see 
the Taung fossil, Broom was in a good position to offer his opinion, 
which he immediately did in reports to both Nature and Natural History. 
In the Nature article, Broom noted that, although Dart’s discovery was 
smaller-brained, it looked surprisingly near to Pithecanthropus erectus and 
that the conclusion that Australopithecus was a connecting link between 
higher apes and humans was justified. 50 He also told the Cape Times, 
“The skull ... is probably the most important ancestral human skull 
found. In fact, I regard it as the most important fossil ever discovered.” 51 
Thus began a long and warm friendship between Dart and Robert 
Broom. Of course, that February Dart had no way of knowing just how 
important Broom’s belief in his discovery would turn out to be. Despite 
the sudden fame he was enjoying, he was soon going to need all the sup- 
port he could get, because a rather unpleasant valentine was belatedly 
making its way to him on a mail boat from England. 12 


THREE 


Taung’s Checkered Past 


I could never have dreamed in even my most pessimistic 
moods of the doubts — and in some cases scorn — that would 
be heaped upon my conclusions. Raymond Dart 


The valentine from London was the February 14, 1925, issue of Nature, 
which Dart did not receive until near the end of the month. Its contents 
were, to say the least, deflating for Dart on the heels of Taung’s positive 
debut. The editor had invited four scholars from the “British scientific 
establishment” to express their opinions about the fossil from Taungs, 
which they also did simultaneously in another prominent journal, the 
British Medical 'Journal} Significantly, three of the four were members of 
the Piltdown committee: Sir Arthur Keith, Grafton Elliot Smith, and 
Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. (The fourth was W. L.H. Duckworth, 
who Dart thought offered the most favorable opinion .) 2 

Despite their glowing remarks when Taung was first announced, 
the opinions of the three advocates of Piltdown had quickly become 
cautious and, at times, skeptical. Keith, for example, wrote, “When 
Prof Dart produces his evidence in full he may convert those who, like 
myself, doubt the advisability of creating a new family for the recep- 
tion of this new form. It may be that Australopithecus does turn out to 
be ‘intermediate between living anthropoids and man,’ but on the evi- 
dence now produced one is inclined to place Australopithecus in the same 


40 


Taungs Checkered Past / 41 


group or sub-family as the chimpanzee and gorilla .” 3 For his part, Elliot 
Smith echoed Keith’s opinion that Taung was similar to gorillas and 
chimpanzees, noting, “It would be rash to push the claim in support 
of the South African anthropoid’s nearer kinship with man” without 
further evidence about the teeth (recall that Taung’s jaws had not yet 
been separated) and the geological age of the fossil . 4 

Unsurprisingly, Elliot Smith found the endocast to be the most inter- 
esting part of Taung and observed that the most suggestive feature 
shown in Dart’s illustration of it was the “parietal expansion that has 
pushed asunder the lunate and parallel sulci — a very characteristic 
human feature .” 5 Even though Dart had invoked Elliot Smith’s theory 
regarding this part of the endocast, Elliot Smith was guarded in his 
opinion but still managed to offer a backhanded compliment to his for- 
mer protege: “When fuller information regarding the brain is forth- 
coming — and no one is more competent than Prof. Dart to observe the 
evidence and interpret it — I for one shall be quite prepared to admit 
that an ape has been found the brain of which points the way to the 
emergence of the distinctive brain and mind of mankind .” 6 

Woodward, who had done the first reconstruction and interpretation 
of the Piltdown remains, offered the most critical opinion that Valen- 
tine’s Day. Referring to Dart’s description of Taung, he noted: 

As usual, however, there are serious defects in the material for discussion, 
and before the published first impressions can be confirmed, more examples 
of the same skull are needed. . . . I . . . hesitate to attach much importance 
to rounding or flattening of any part of the brain-cast. ... It is premature 
to express any opinion as to whether the direct ancestors of man are to be 
sought in Asia or in Africa. The new fossil from South Africa certainly has 
little bearing on the question. 7 

Duckworth, on the other hand, was much more positive and even reit- 
erated the characteristics of Taung’s eye sockets, nose, forehead, and 
canines that supported Dart’s assessment. He was not bothered by 
Taung’s resemblance to African rather than Asian apes and (propheti- 


42 / Taung’s Checkered Past 


cally) suggested that future information about the geological age of the 
specimen might place it very far back in time, necessitating a “recasting 
of . . . views .” 8 Nevertheless, Duckworth joined the other commentators 
in attributing some of Taung’s supposedly advanced characteristics to 
its youthfulness and in calling for more information, especially about 
the brain. His remarks, however, were less stinging than theirs: “Should 
Prof Dart succeed in justifying these claims, the status he proposes 
for the new ape-form should be conceded. Much will depend on the 
interpretation of the features exhibited by the surface of the brain . . . 
and since Prof. Dart is so well equipped for that aspect of the inquiry, 
his conclusions must needs carry special weight there .” 9 

Years later Dart recalled, “I was disappointed that these four emi- 
nent British anthropologists had not accepted my findings, but was 
not entirely surprised. After all, I was getting away much more lightly 
than Dubois [discoverer of Pithecanthropus ) and others who had made 
outstanding fossil discoveries. But criticism rather than adoration of 
their potential ancestry seemed to be the overseas reaction .” 10 Within 
a few months, however, the British establishment’s assessment of Taung 
became even more negative in Dart’s eyes. His “old chief,” as he 
called Elliot Smith, was quoted saying that it was unfortunate that 
Dart had not had access to skulls of infant apes, because they would 
have revealed many of the same features that Dart had identified 
as comparatively advanced-looking on Taung. (Although this is an 
overstatement, infant apes appear more humanlike than adult apes in 
some features, such as the shape of the forehead and lack of fully de- 
veloped brow ridges.) Taung, Elliot Smith said, was an “unmistakable 
ape,” and “although Australopithecus had been claimed as the missing 
link, it was certainly not one of the really significant links for which 
they were searching .” 11 Clearly, Elliot Smith was ambivalent. Even 
though he did not entirely share Dart’s interpretation of Taung, he 
was proud of his young protege and would soon have occasion to rise 
to his defense. 


Taung’s Checkered Past / 43 


THE WEMBLEY EXHIBIT 

Such was the extent of public interest in Taung that Dart was invited 
to prepare a display for installation in the South African pavilion at the 
large British Empire Exhibit in Wembley, Middlesex. Although Wits 
was not set up for casting, Dart was able to put together a team that 
produced plaster copies of the skull and endocast that were painted to 
look like the original fossils. A half-bust and a second, complete and 
fully fleshed bust of Taung’s head, neck, and shoulders (hair and all) 
were also prepared, and copies were made to include with the exhibit. 
These casts were duly mailed to the exhibition commissioner, Captain 
E.F.C. Lane, who wrote to Dart on June 4, 1925, to say that they had 
arrived satisfactorily and were on exhibit. 12 In his letter, Captain Lane 
also informed Dart that he had shown the replicas to Elliot Smith, who 
had brought some casts from a gorilla and four primitive humans to 
illustrate human brain growth and who had agreed to write a brochure 
that he proposed to have printed and affixed to the exhibit’s glass case. 13 

Earlier, in the wake of finally seeing copies of Taung’s remains, Elliot 
Smith remarked publicly that the posture and poise of its head “were 
essentially identical with the conditions met in the infant gorilla and 
chimpanzee.” 14 Even before that, Elliot Smith had directed a drawing 
(by A. Forestier) that revised a sketch of Taung’s reconstructed and 
fleshed-out head that had been prepared under Dart’s guidance, both 
of which appeared side by side in the March 21, 1925, edition of the Rand 
Daily Mail } 5 As noted in the figure legend, Dart’s drawing had a more 
humanlike ear and eye socket, a longer neck, and a more erect posture 
than the revised version. Imagine, then, the apprehension that Dart 
must have felt reading the rest of Captain Lane’s letter, which referred 
to the busts he had sent for the exhibit: 

They are, I understand, built up on the supposition that the being whose 
brain is represented walked erect. This is, I believe, your theory. In the event 
of anybody holding the theory that your discovery belonged to a being who 
did not walk erect, have you any objection to a plaster cast being introduced 


44 / Taungs Checkered Past 


into the case to demonstrate that aspect? Professor Beatty accompanied Pro- 
fessor Elliot Smith when he came and he told me that he (Professor Beatty), 
acting on data which you had furnished, had made up a cast of a being which 
did not walk erect and that his cast was available for display in connection 
with this exhibit, provided no objection was raised. I said that this was a 
matter upon which we should have to consult you and that I would write by 
this mail and probably we should get an answer by the middle ofjuly . 16 

Captain Lane received his answer in a letter from Dart, dated July 22, 
1925. Interestingly, the handwritten copy of this letter that is in the Uni- 
versity ofWitwatersrand Archives contains an uncharacteristic number 
of phrases and words that were stricken as the letter was composed. The 
final letter read: 

Dear Captain Lane, 

I am glad the material arrived safely but I am astounded that a 
copyrighted exhibit should have been tampered with and given a 
character other than that elaborated and intended by the exhibitor. 

I designed the exhibit to show the Taungs material and something 
South African only — not to explain the evolution of man. I should 
have appreciated your consulting me in this matter and also in that 
of issuing a brochure prior to their execution. 1 do not feel that the 
South African Pavilion & a popular audience forms the proper milieu 
for the discussion of the propriety or otherwise of the reconstruction 
carried out under my supervision & I am glad that you have waited to 
hear from me in that regard. 

I am yours sincerely Raymond A. Dart 1 ' 

Although Dart told Captain Lane that he was not trying to explain 
human evolution in his display, he had included a chart under a ban- 
ner that read “Africa: The Cradle of Humanity,” which was set out 
spectacularly on velvet along with the casts. 18 According to Dart, the 
boldness of this banner provoked indignant reactions. But so did the 
fact that Dart’s chart placed Taung as ancestral to Pithecanthropus (Java 
Man), followed by Piltdown, and then Rhodesian Man. 19 Having just 
seen the casts of Taung for the first time at Wembley, Arthur Keith 


Taungs Checkered Past / 4 s' 


reacted negatively to the exhibit in Nature . 20 Observing that Dart’s 
exhibit was tantamount to claiming Taung was a “missing link,” Keith 
railed, “An examination of the casts exhibited at Wembley will sat- 
isfy zoologists that this claim is preposterous — the skull is that of a 
young anthropoid ape.” Keith also asserted that Taung was too recent 
to “have any place in man’s ancestry.” What really got to him, I sus- 
pect, was Dart’s dethronement of Piltdown Man in his chart. Keith 
observed, 

In a large diagram . . . Prof. Dart gives his final conception of the place occu- 
pied by the Taungs ape in the scale of man’s evolution. He makes it the foun- 
dation stone of the human family tree. From the “African Ape Ancestors, 
typified by the Taungs Infant,” Pithecanthropus, Piltdown man, Rhodesian 
man, and African races radiate off. A genealogist would make an identical 
mistake were he to claim a modern Sussex peasant as the ancestor of Wil- 
liam the Conqueror. 21 

By then, Dart’s mood had changed from one of exultation to depres- 
sion, because he felt that the leading anthropologists were “ganging 
up” on him . 22 Although he probably did not know it at the time, Elliot 
Smith continued to be supportive. Within three days of Keith’s unpleas- 
ant communication in Nature, Elliot Smith wrote to Captain Lane that 
he need not be disturbed by it, because Dart had always claimed that 
Taung was an ape, but one that also had manlike traits, and that there 
was no question about this. He noted, too, that Professor William Sollas 
of Oxford had recently corroborated Dart’s conclusions, and he added 
a comment that would ring as true today as it did then: “It is unusual 
for an investigator to issue casts of his material before his full report has 
been published. The South African authorities therefore have done a 
real service to science by exhibiting the casts at Wembley now .” 23 
Although Dart had become depressed by the controversy surround- 
ing Taung, he managed to publish a reply to Keith in Nature that was 
both accurate and masterfully ironic, and perhaps deserved in light of 
Keith’s sarcastic remark about the genealogy of William the Conqueror: 


4 6 / Taungs Checkered Past 


Sir Arthur Keith has attempted to show first that I called the Taungs skull a 
“missing link,” and secondly, that it is not a “missing link.” As a matter of fact, 
although I undoubtedly regard the description as an adequate one, I have not 
used the term “missing link.” On the other hand, Sir Arthur Keith in an arti- 
cle entitled “The New Missing Link” in the British Medical Journal (February 
14, 1925) pointed out that “it is not only a missing link but a very complete 
and important one.” After stating his views so definitely in February, it seems 
strange that, in July, he should state that “this claim is preposterous.” . . . 
Sir Arthur is harrowed unduly lest the skull may be Pleistocene [relatively 
recent]. It is significant in this connexion that Dr. Broom . . . regarded it never- 
theless as “the forerunner of such a type as Eoanthropus ” [Piltdown Man], It 
should not need explanation that the Taungs infant, being an infant, was 
ancestral to nothing, but the family that he typified are the nearest to the pre- 
human ancestral type that we have Sir Arthur need have no qualms lest 

his remarks detract from the importance of the Taungs discovery — criticism 
generally enhances rather than detracts. Three decades ago [Thomas Henry] 
Huxley refused to accept Pithecanthropus as a link. Today Sir Arthur Keith 
regards Pithecanthropus as the only known link. There is no record that Huxley 
first accepted it, then retracted it, but history sometimes repeats itself 24 

(Once again, I am struck by the fact that today’s acrimonious debates 
about the hominin fossil record are nothing new.) 

Another aspect of Keith’s July 1925 letter to Nature is noteworthy, 
because it touched upon the still-thorny issue of protocols for making 
casts of new discoveries (or other relevant data) available to colleagues — 
including cantankerous ones. Even though it had been only five months 
since Dart published his initial report on Taung, Keith complained, “For 
some reason, which has not been made clear, students of fossil man have 
not been given an opportunity of purchasing these casts; if they wish to 
study them they must visit Wembley and peer at them in a glass case . . . 
in the South African pavilion.” 25 Today, such whinging would be seen as 
premature, because it is understood that discoverers and their colleagues 
may need some years to finish their preliminary analyses of fossils before 
making copies available to others. After all, the discoverers went to the 
trouble and expense (with or without grants) of finding the specimens, so 
it is only fair that they should have first crack at analyzing them. 


Taung’s Checkered Past / 47 


Although fossils are now viewed as part of the heritage of their 
countries of origin, Dart assumed Taung was his personal property, 
which was normal at that time. 26 After carefully considering a proposal 
from the Witwatersrand Council of Education that he donate the fos- 
sil to the university in exchange for financial support for his research, 
he declined the offer. 27 Because Dart was not set up at Wits to pro- 
duce museum-quality casts, he eventually made arrangements to have 
the various parts of Taung cast in London by Messrs. R.F. Damon and 
Company, Makers of Anthropological and Palaeontological Casts and 
Models, so that copies could be sold to interested individuals, museums, 
and universities. Soon after the discovery of Taung was announced, 
Dart was approached about making such an arrangement. The person 
who approached him was a partner of that company, F.O. Barlow, who 
suggested that Dart might feel less anxiety about sending the skull to 
London if he sent it to him (Barlow) at the Natural History Museum, 
where it could remain under his personal charge while he did the work 
on it. 28 Although it took some years of negotiating to finalize the arrange- 
ments, two series of casts were produced by Damon and Company, the 
first from casts of Taung, and the second from the original fossil, which 
Dora Dart personally took to London during a trip to England to take a 
postgraduate course. (Raymond, meanwhile, took sabbatical to travel to 
Italy with the Italian Scientific Expedition.) Records in the archives at 
Wits indicate that Dart received royalties on cast sales during most of 
the 1930s, and it may have been even longer. It is interesting that, years 
earlier F.O. Barlow had prepared plaster replicas of the Piltdown skull 
under the direction of Arthur Smith Woodward and was one of the men 
portrayed in John Cooke’s painting The Piltdown Committee (figure i). 29 

THE MONOGRAPH THAT WASN’T 

The ink barely had time to dry on Dart’s 1925 report in Nature when 
it became clear that he was expected to write a full monograph about 
his discovery. 30 As Keith put it, “No doubt when Prof. Dart publishes 


48 / Taungs Checkered Past 


his full monograph of his discovery, he will settle many points which 
are now left open.” 31 Despite his myriad duties as an administrator 
and teacher, Dart set out to do just that. It took him four painstaking 
years to produce three drafts and multiple additional alterations (most 
of them handwritten), but by 1929 he had finished a voluminous and 
extensively documented monograph, Australopithecus africanus: And His 
Place in Human Origins. This remarkable book contained detailed sec- 
tions on the geology, bones, teeth, and endocast, as well as thorough 
discussions about the “cradle of mankind” and “Africa as the cradle of 
pre-man.” 32 Dart asked Elliot Smith to submit his monograph to the 
Royal Society in London for consideration for publication, which he 
did. (This was appropriate, because Elliot Smith was a fellow of the 
society, or an FRS.) 

Dart was not informed of the fate of his monograph until he visited 
London in February 1931 and learned from Elliot Smith that the Royal 
Society Committee was not prepared to recommend publication of any 
part of his book other than the section on teeth. 33 Dart later recalled, 
“Sir Arthur Keith had already told me that he had written an exhaustive 
description of the cranial material for his forthcoming book on recent 
anthropological discoveries, so I took my manuscript back to South 
Africa in the hope that a more propitious occasion would present itself 
in the future. The thorough analysis but adverse conclusions concern- 
ing the fossil which I knew was soon to appear in Sir Arthur Keith’s new 
book reflected the British attitude.” 34 

It is difficult to know exactly on what grounds the Royal Society 
Committee rejected Dart’s monograph or who was consulted about the 
decision. Both Sir Arthurs (i.e., Keith and Smith Woodward) were Royal 
Society fellows and would have been likely choices as consultants, given 
the history discussed above. (Whether or not they would have been 
objective reviewers is another matter.) Some hints may be found in 
excerpts from the follow-up letter that Elliot Smith wrote to Dart on 
February 25, 1931: 


Taungs Checkered Past / 49 


My dear Dart, 

It might help you in the revision of your manuscript to know the sort of 
criticisms which have been made by some of the referees and by myself . . . 
All these notes apply to the pages relating to the teeth, because in the case 
of that part of the paper I did make a desperate effort to see whether I 
could not secure its publication . . . but the same sort of criticisms have been 
made of the rest of the paper. . . . The critics repeatedly referred to the fact, 
which of course you are only too aware of yourself, that the anthropoid 
material at your disposal was too small to justify adequate comparison 
with the Taungs material. In this matter of course we can supply you with 
additional comparative material. ... I think it would also be wise to cut out 
the purple patches in your general conclusions and simply restrict yourself 
to the inferences which definitely emerge from your description and 
comparison. State these inferences in carefully restrained language. 

Yours sincerely, (signed) G. Elliot Smith 35 

Several things are striking about the review that Dart’s monograph 
received from the Royal Society. First, he was so discouraged that he did 
not even publish the paper about australopithecine teeth there. About 
two years after receiving the above letter, Dart wrote to a colleague 
in Japan, asking if he would like to publish a paper on the dentition of 
Australopithecus in a Japanese journal. 36 The answer was affirmative, so 
Dart’s paper on australopithecine teeth appeared in Japan rather than 
England. 37 Second, the lack of comparative material from apes should not 
have been an obstacle to publishing the whole monograph, since Elliot 
Smith kindly offered to supply Dart with additional comparative mate- 
rial to help him revise the dental section. Finally, “purple” prose was a 
stylistic concern that could have been remedied with the help of an edi- 
tor or copyeditor, as is frequently done in modern journals. Today, Dart’s 
manuscript remains unpublished in the University of Witwatersrand 
Archives, having been rejected by the British scientific aristocracy. I first 
set eyes on Dart’s monograph while doing research for this book in the 
summer of 2008. Its contents, to put it mildly, were surprising. But more 
on that in the next chapter. 


50 / Taungs Checkered Past 


WHY THE NEGATIVE REACTION? 

Meanwhile, one wonders why Dart’s meticulous efforts were given such 
short shrift by scholars. Two people have provided particularly con- 
vincing insights. Robert Broom, later reminiscing about how Dart was 
treated, recalled: 

It makes one rub one’s eyes. Here was a man who had made one of the great- 
est discoveries in the world’s history — a discovery that may yet rank in 
importance with Darwin’s Origin of Species; and English culture treats him as 
if he had been a naughty schoolboy. I was never able to discover what were 
Professor Dart’s offences. Presumably the most serious was that when he 
found a very important skull he did not immediately send it off to the British 
Museum, where it would have been examined by an “expert” and probably 
described io years later, but boldly described it himself, and published an 
account within a few weeks of the discovery. 38 

Phillip Tobias provided a different but equally persuasive analysis 
about why a quarter of a century was needed for Dart’s recognition of 
Taung as a new species “that was knocking on the door of humanity” to 
gain general acceptance. 14 Dart’s discovery, he observed, was ahead of 
its time, or premature, because its implications could not be connected 
in simple logical steps to the generally accepted knowledge of the 
day. The delayed acceptance of Taung was not unique, Tobias noted, 
because the same thing had happened with respect to a number of other 
important “premature” revelations, such as the laws of genetics and the 
discovery of penicillin. 40 Tobias listed various tenets about human evo- 
lution that were accepted in 1925 but that Taung’s implications “flew in 
the face of.” 41 Among these were the beliefs (now known to be incorrect) 
that Asia was the cradle of humanity, brain size led the way during 
hominin evolution as suggested by Piltdown, most of Taung’s features 
could be explained by its youth, and Taung’s geological date was too 
recent for a human ancestor. 

Tobias discussed an additional way in which Taung upset prevailing 
views, at least among the public: “Another school of thought, that of 
creationism, would not accept an evolutionary link between humans 


Taungs Checkered Past / 51 


and non-human animals, or the very idea of evolution, while Dart was 
claiming that his child came closer to bridging the gap between human 
and non-human than anything yet discovered.” 42 Indeed, as soon as the 
discovery of Taung was announced, Dart began receiving letters from 
religious fundamentalists from around the world, warning him of his 
impending damnation (or worse). Given his fundamentalist upbringing, 
one wonders how Dart felt about communications like the following 
excerpt from a letter from France dated February 7, 1925, which was 
addressed simply to “Professor Dart, Discoverer of the Taung’s skull, 
Witwatersrand, South Africa,” yet managed to get to him: 

Sir: THE HORRID APE-MAN HYBRID AND THE INEVITABLE PUNISHMENT OF 

the flame. Let us hope that the wealth of the Sect [of] the Evolutionists 
will be poured out for your Terrestrial happiness. “Man hath but a short 
time to live.” The quenchless flame that, on this Earth, melts the rocky 
mountain like fat in a melting pot over a hot fire; will be found to be equally 
hot in the depths of the world of hell. To put out this horrible hybrid of a 
vile man’s act, with some ape, as the ancestor of Man: is a gross mockery, 
and an insult to the great Creator who made Man in his own pure and holy 
Image: and, it will be adequately punished when you have “passed over to 
the other side .” 43 

Similarly emotional comments appeared in letters to newspapers and 
arose from many pulpits. For example, the Reverend William Meara, 
who preached at the Central Flail in Johannesburg on February 8, 1925, 
said he “did not believe in the ‘monkey theory of man’s ancestry.’” 44 
Dart also had supporters, of course, including some clergy who rec- 
onciled the discovery of Taung with their religious views by invoking 
ideas that were surprisingly similar to those used today in the name of 
Creation Science or Intelligent Design. Thus, the bishop of Pretoria, 
Dr. Neville Talbot, gave an interview to the Johannesburg Star that 
appeared on February 19, 1925, in which he said there was nothing to be 
alarmed about in the proof that was accumulating about the probability 
that humans and apes came from an earlier common stock. “The curve 
of life is ever upwards,” he noted. “Looking at life in that way, we see 


52 / Taungs Checkered Past 


the whole process as the working out of the Big Idea, and that involves a 
Being Who has that idea, and the power to carry it out.” 45 Remarkably, 
Dr. Talbot even suggested a label for this point of view that was very 
close to today’s “Creation Science”: “I think there is nothing inconsis- 
tent in belief in the fact of evolution and belief in creation. In fact the 
phrase ‘creative evolution’ brings the two together.” 46 Similar views 
were expressed in England by Dr. Barnes, the bishop of Birmingham. 47 

Not everybody was able to reconcile his or her religious beliefs with 
new developments in the fossil record, however. By the time Taung 
was discovered, scientists around the world were pointing to numerous 
discoveries that had accumulated by the end of the first quarter of the 
twentieth century as support for Darwin’s theory of evolution. These 
included Java Man, Heidelberg Man (a primitive jaw from Germany 
that is thought today to be from an extinct species of Homo), Piltdown 
Man (which had not yet been exposed as a fraud), Rhodesian Man, and 
Neanderthal Man. (Given the apparent lack of prehistoric women, I 
can’t help but marvel that humans evolved at all!) With each new discov- 
ery, it had become increasingly difficult for fundamentalists to dismiss 
them all as “degenerate offshoots” of humans. 48 Although Taung was 
viewed as nothing more than an aberrant ape by many anti-evolution- 
ists, another interpretation that appeared in the February 6, 1925, edi- 
tion of the Cape Times is interesting in light of the current controversy 
surrounding Hobbit, which we will discuss later: “A point of absorb- 
ing interest on which the scientific world awaits evidence is whether 
1 'Australopithecus africanm is, as Professor Dart asserts, a child, or whether 
it is a pigmy. If no strong scientific reason is forthcoming in support of 
the child supposition, the Taungs discovery may create a revulsion in 
favour of Churchward’s pigmy theory of man’s descent, which has been 
hitherto derided by the most eminent anthropologists.” 49 

Another interesting news item that appeared early in 1925 was from 
New York: “Professor Dart’s theory that the Taungs skull is a miss- 
ing link has evidently not convinced the legislature of Tennessee, the 
governor of which state has signed an ‘Anti-Evolution’ Bill which for- 


Taungs Checkered Past j 53 


bids the teaching of any theory contrary to the Biblical story of the 
creation, or that man is descended from the lower orders of animals. 
Similar legislation which is at present before other state legislatures 
marks the growth of a strict Biblicist movement.” 50 And grow this move- 
ment did, as detailed over 80 years later by historian Edward Larson, 
who linked the negative attitudes toward the growing fossil record and 
paleontologists to the “newfound militancy that characterized the con- 
servative Christians from various Protestant denominations who called 
themselves fundamentalists during the 1920s.” 51 Larson also noted that 
this Biblicist movement drew together to support the prosecution of 
John Scopes for teaching evolutionary theory to high school students 
in Dayton, Tennessee. 

Indeed, after the news of Taung’s discovery broke on February 3, 1925, 
things moved quickly on the anti-evolution front in the United States. 
Governor Austin Peay signed the above-mentioned anti-evolution bill 
on March 23, 1925; John Scopes was arrested about six weeks later; and he 
was convicted of teaching evolution in the famous “monkey trial,” which 
ended on July 21, 1925. Clearly, fundamentalists in the United States did 
not want their children to be taught evolutionary theory in 1925 — and 
they still don’t, as we will discuss when we get to Hobbit. Meanwhile, it 
is interesting that, to this day, Taung continues to be interpreted within 
a fundamentalist context by some believers. According to the well- 
known creationist Russell Grigg, for example, “The best explanation for 
the Taung child and all the australopithecines is that they were a type of 
ape, unlike either modern apes or humans, which were created by God 
on Day 6 of Creation Week, and which are now extinct.” 52 

As we have seen, the hominin fossil record has always stirred intense 
passions, not only in scientists, but also among the public. Why is this 
so? Shading toward the purple prose for which he was criticized, Dart 
pondered this question and offered as good an explanation as I’ve heard: 
“Why is it that so simple, and so apparently haphazard a discovery is of 
interest to scientist and layman alike? Why is it that amongst numerous 
and seemingly more vital scientific discoveries the imagination of all 


54 / Taungs Checkered Past 


humanity, skeptical or believing, is gripped by the Taung infant? It is 
because every thinking man and woman has weighed through many 
hours the perplexing problems of ‘Whence have I come? What am I 
doing? Whither am I going?’ and it is because, amidst a myriad of philo- 
sophical hypotheses, science provides concrete and tangible evidence in 
answer to the first of this fundamental trinity of enquiry, that youth and 
man alike eagerly scan the writing in the rocks.” 53 Later in his life, Dart 
repeated this sentiment and added his thoughts on religion: 

A few thousand years ago when urban civilizations were first established 
kings and priests formulated theocratic answers to these questions. The 
sacred writings of the world’s great religions enshrine various modifications 
of these early ponderings and answers. Only during the last century — and 
especially since Dubois’s explosive discovery of Pithecanthropus in 1893 and 
the dating of the world’s rocks by radioactive clocks — has it been possible 
to give scientific facts and so to answer these profound questions with more 
precision than our ancestors could. 54 


PUBLIC TRIUMPH, PRIVATE PERSON 

Although it was slow in coming, the scientific community eventually 
accepted Dart’s interpretation of Taung, which is now regarded as one of 
the most (if not the most) important hominin discoveries of the twenti- 
eth century. 55 Several factors contributed to this positive turn of events. 
First, in the same year that Dart finished his ill-fated monograph (1929), 
he was finally able to part Taung’s upper and lower jaws, which exposed 
the biting surfaces of the teeth. (The reason this took such a long time 
was that Dart had to work painstakingly to free the specimen of its 
adhering cementlike breccia by using tools such as knitting needles.) 
He sent dental casts to experts all over the world, including William 
King Gregory at the American Museum of Natural History, in New 
York. 56 After comparing the teeth of Taung, humans, and apes, Gregory 
confirmed Dart’s view that Taung’s dentition was “remarkably man- 


Taungs Checkered Past / 55 


like.” 57 So did other experts, including Harvard’s famed paleontologist 
Alfred Sherwood Romer. 58 Largely because of the new dental evidence, 
Gregory reversed his earlier opinion that Taung was not a human ances- 
tor and, instead, concluded, “It is the missing link no longer missing. It 
is the structural connecting link between ape and man. . . . This is an 
actual fossil form found in South Africa and it does, to that extent, favor 
the view of Darwin that Man arose in Africa.” 59 

After Dart learned in 1931 that his nearly 300-page monograph on 
Australopithecus would not be published, he went into an eclipse as far as 
that aspect of his research. What was needed to vindicate his ideas was 
for someone to go out and discover more fossils like Taung — but pref- 
erably adults. Dart’s elderly and faithful colleague Robert Broom did 
just that from 1936 to 1949. Because of Broom’s tireless efforts, numerous 
fossils of Australopithecus africanus came to light from a quarry site called 
Sterkfontein, as well as other fossils from a second hominin species with 
a more robust skull (Paranthropus rohustus) at a nearby cave on a farm 
called Kromdraai. (These two groups are generally referred to as aus- 
tralopithecines.) Broom’s wonderful discoveries represented various 
parts of the skeleton and ushered in what Dart would later remember as 
the period of his vindication. 60 

Despite his well-earned reputation for stoicism, Dart suffered because 
of the prolonged controversy surrounding Taung. In 1943 he experienced 
a “nervous breakdown,” in which he was “emotionally, and physically 
broken,” partly for personal reasons (related to the health of his handi- 
capped son, Galen) and partly because of “the strain suffered during 
Science’s overlong rejection of his claims for Australopithecus africanus ." 61 
On the recommendation of his physician, Dart took a year off work 
and “emerged from his recuperative period revitalized. . . . Recovered 
from his former weariness, he could single out with enhanced acuity 
the fossil’s remaining foes — all those in the Piltdown camp including 
Sir Arthur Keith — and, at the same time, better appreciate the growing 
band of scientists and laymen supporting Australopithecus africanus ." 61 


y6 / Taungs Checkered Past 


Despite his recovery, Dart remained aloof from anthropological re- 
search until 1945, when his student Phillip Tobias pulled him back into 
the fold. After Tobias returned from leading a group of medical and 
science students on an exploration of the Makapansgat Valley, in the 
northern Transvaal, he told Dart that they had found stone tools and 
a skull of a fossil baboon at a limeworks site. The skull, which Tobias 
gave to Dart, resembled the fossil that Josephine Salmons had brought 
to Dart in 1924, which sparked the search for fossils that led to Taung. 
Tobias suggested the skull indicated that Makapansgat was older than 
previously believed, perhaps even as old as the Sterkfontein site that 
was yielding australopithecines. When Dart agreed, Tobias asked him, 
“Then doesn’t this tempt you back into the field of anthropological 
research?” 63 Dart later recalled, “It was almost as if he had read my 
thoughts. It might not only prove to be as old as anything yet discovered 
but might also yield a more complete man-ape than those found by 
Broom. Summoning Tobias to follow, I went to my workshop and took 
down my hammers, chisels and other anthropological tools which had 
lain neglected for so many years. ‘You have my answer,’ I told him.” 64 

Broom’s accumulating fossils proved that Dart had been right — aus- 
tralopithecines had walked upright, their canines were smaller than 
those of apes, and their teeth looked more humanlike than apelike. 
Broom and his colleague Gerrit Schepers prepared a massive volume 
“detailing every scrap of evidence about the man-apes.” 65 Published in 
1946, the book, The South African Fossil Ape-Men: The Australopithecinae , 
won a medal for being the most important work in biology from the 
National Academy of Sciences in the United States. Thanks to Dart’s 
renewed interest, Makapansgat yielded the first of many australopith- 
ecines in 1947. 

That same year, Oxford anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark capitulated 
from his earlier views in an extensive analysis of the australopithecine 
fossils, which he had since studied firsthand. In Le Gros Clark’s opinion, 
the fossils were hominids (now called hominins) rather than pongids 
(apes). Further, in a sentiment that presaged the fall ofPiltdown Man, 


Ta tings Checkered Past / 57 


which would occur six years later, he stated, “The evolution of the limb 
structure proceeded at a more rapid rate than that of the brain.” 66 

Clearly, by 1947 the tide was turning. How sweet it must have been 
for Dart to read Sir Arthur Keith’s words in Nature that year: “When 
professor Dart of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 
announced in Nature the discovery of a juvenile Australopithecus and 
claimed for it a human kinship, I was one of those who took the point of 
view that when the adult form was discovered it would prove to be nearer 
akin to the living African anthropoids — the gorilla and chimpanzee. . . . 
I am now convinced of the evidence submitted by Dr. Robert Broom 
that Professor Dart was right and I was wrong. The Australopithecinae 
are in or near the line which culminated in the human form. ... I have 
ventured ... to call them by the colloquial name of Dartians. . . . The 
Dartians are ground-living anthropoids, human in posture, gait and den- 
tition, but still anthropoid in face physiognomy and size of brain.” 67 Dart 
later described Keith’s letter as “magnanimous.” 68 

Although Dart’s depiction of Australopithecus as “terrestrial, troglo- 
dytic and predacous [sic] in habit — a cave-dwelling, plains-frequent- 
ing, stream-searching, bird-nest-rifling and bone-cracking ape, who 
employed destructive implements in the chase and preparation of his 
carnivorous diet” has not met with universal acceptance, his interpre- 
tation of Taung’s body build, bipedal movement, and hominin status 
turned out to be correct. 69 Today, thousands of australopithecine fossils 
have been discovered from numerous sites in South, East, and Central 
Africa. Dated between roughly 5 million and 1 million years of age, these 
specimens represent many hundreds of individuals and an increasing 
number of species. Contemporary scientists believe that the ancestors 
that gave rise to our own genus, Homo , originated somewhere among 
the less robust australopithecines like Taung (i.e., from Australopithecus 
rather than Paranthropus). 

Although Dart had declined to donate Taung to the university soon 
after it was discovered, he willed the fossil to Wits in 1979. Dart died 
in 1988 at the age of 95. 70 Since then, Taung has been under the safe- 


58 / Taungs Checkered Past 


keeping of his beloved Department of Anatomy, while Dart’s unpub- 
lished monograph remains largely unread and unappreciated among 
his papers in the University of Witwatersrand Archives. As I learned, 
however, this manuscript contains revelations that may be important, 
not only for the debate surrounding Hobbit, but also for a controversy 
about brain evolution that has endured for the past 30 years. 


FOUR 


Sulcal Skirmishes 


It is reasonable to remind readers ... of two important 
historical facts: (i) by any standards, W.E. LeGros Clark 
was a superb . . . neuroanatomist with a strong comparative 
interest and training; (2) Raymond Dart was a protege of 
G.E. Smith, who devoted a very considerable portion of his 
professional career to the study of the lunate sulcus. Dart’s 
early publications were in comparative neuroanatomy. 
These points are only mentioned to indicate that those 
who did study the original specimens were well-versed 
regarding comparative neuroanatomy and the lunate 
sulcus in particular. 

Ralph Holloway 


In the face of discoveries of hundreds of australopithecine teeth and fos- 
silized fragments of bones, along with a handful of relatively complete 
skulls and isolated natural endocasts that accumulated during 20-some 
years following Dart’s announcement of Taung, scientific luminaries 
who had once opposed his views concluded that he had, indeed, been 
right about Australopithecus africanus being an upright-walking forerun- 
ner of humans. Some even allowed that he had been right about Taung’s 
brain being advanced compared with an ape’s — but not for the reason 
that Dart had given . 1 Dart’s story shows that paleoanthropologists dur- 
ing the first half of the twentieth century could be competitive, cliqu- 
ish, political, and ad hominem toward those who challenged their views. 
This is still the case, as I can attest from firsthand experience that began 


59 


6 o / Sulcal Skirmishes 


over 30 years ago when my research on the Taung endocast started a 
second round in what I think of as the lunate sulcus wars. 

When I first visited South Africa as a recently graduated PhD in 
1978, 1 was a newcomer to the field and was fascinated with the subject 
of human brain evolution. At the time I knew very little about the his- 
tory discussed in the first chapters of this book, and my sparking of 
a prolonged controversy about brain evolution was completely unwit- 
ting. I was thrilled that the scientists at the Transvaal Museum and the 
University of Witwatersrand allowed me to study the six natural endo- 
casts of australopithecines (including Taung’s) that had been discovered 
by that time and that they also allowed me to describe a fragment of a 
seventh natural endocast that had recently been unearthed in a dusty 
box in a museum storage room. 2 Equally important, I returned to the 
United States with copies of all of the endocasts, which to this day are 
among my most prized possessions. 

Before I went to Africa, my mentor, paleontologist Leonard Radinsky 
(1937-85), told me to be sure to keep my eyes out, because I would be 
shocked by the number of museum specimens whose appearances con- 
tradict their published descriptions. (His second piece of advice was 
to take lots of photographs of the scientists I would meet.) Professor 
Radinsky’s advice turned out to be prophetic when it came to the aus- 
tralopithecine endocasts. For one thing, after careful study it was clear 
to me that Dart had mistakenly identified the lambdoid suture of the 
skull that had been imprinted on Taung’s endocast as the lunate sul- 
cus! (See lb in figure 7, shown below.) This was a shock, because I had 
been thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that the endocast, though 
small, had a back end that appeared humanlike because of a posteriorly 
located lunate sulcus. To my surprise, this was not the case for any of 
the australopithecine endocasts. Instead, their overall sulcal patterns 
appeared (at least to me) to be entirely like those of similarly sized ape 
brains. 

At the time, I was a bit star-struck by endocast expert Ralph Holloway, 
from Columbia University, who had long championed Dart’s description 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 61 


of Taung, and I remember that after Radinsky had read the first draft 
of a paper that I was preparing in order to document my observations 
about australopithecine endocasts, he told me that I could not ignore 
Holloway’s research just because I happened to disagree with him. In 
1980, 1 published a detailed comparative study using human, gorilla, and 
chimpanzee brains, which provided background for my observations 
about australopithecines. J In it, I presented my case that Dart had mis- 
taken the lambdoid suture for the lunate sulcus on the Taung endocast, 
as Wilfrid Le Gros Clark and his colleagues had suggested long ago. 4 
As Radinsky had urged, I also politely acknowledged that my views dif- 
fered from Holloway’s. Near the end of the paper, I stated, “The most 
important conclusion of this paper is that the australopithecine lunate 
sulcus was not located in a caudal human-like position, as first reported 
by Dart (1925) and now generally believed. Rather, the australopithecine 
lunate sulcus was relatively rostral, as in pongids.” 5 Little did I know 
what I had gotten myself into! 

But it didn’t take long to find out, and the response from Columbia 
University was chilling. Noting correctly that I had relied on tactile 
cues from feeling the surfaces of endocasts (palpation) in addition to 
observing them visually, Holloway commented in a published response 
to my paper, “Falk places undue stress on palpation as a technique 
which is somehow more valuable in her study than those of others who 
have not mentioned it,” and he went on to add that there were few prac- 
ticing “phrenologists,” which he qualified with the remark, “I have used 
this term even though it has negative connotations. ‘Paleoneurologists’ 
would be better, but given the stress on palpation and surface features, 
this term has a certain embarrassing appropriateness.” 6 (As mentioned 
in chapter 2, phrenology was a nineteenth-century pseudoscience whose 
basic premise was that personality traits and skills could be “read” by 
feeling the bumps on a person’s head, which supposedly reflected the 
relative size of underlying parts of the brain.) He also observed that, 
in his opinion, almost none of the numerous sulci I had identified on 
australopithecine endocasts (shown below) could be identified with any 


62 / Sulcal Skirmishes 


certitude. Particularly distressing was Holloway’s reminder to readers 
that those whose views he championed had been great scientists (per 
the epigraph that opens this chapter), the not too veiled implication of 
which was that readers should prefer the opinions emanating from such 
great men over the opposing conclusions of Falk-the-phrenologist. 

Radinsky, rest his gentle soul, was terribly upset and informed the 
powers-that-be at the American Journal of Physical Anthropology that he 
viewed such remarks as paternalistic and unbecoming to the journal. 
Perhaps it was because of his intervention that I was allowed to reply in 
another article. One of my comments there was, “The fact that Clark, 
Dart, and Smith were renowned scientists has nothing to do with where 
the lunate sulcus is actually located on the Taung specimen. The line 
of reasoning used by Holloway is known to logicians as the argumentum 
ad verecundiam .” 1 From then on, our debate escalated and became quite 
technical as we went round and round in print, with Holloway defend- 
ing Dart’s (and his) interpretation of an evolved posterior part of the 
brain in australopithecines , 8 and me sticking to my australopithecine- 
sulcal-patterns-looked-apelike guns . 9 

Our debate focused on the lunate sulcus, even though it did not show 
up clearly on the Taung endocast or those of the other South African 
australopithecines. (This is not surprising, because this particular sul- 
cus rarely appears on ape endocasts.) While Holloway acknowledged 
that the lambdoid suture was, indeed, visible on Taung’s endocast and 
that a clear lunate sulcus was not, he nevertheless argued that Taung’s 
lunate sulcus had probably had a “more human-like placement” in the 
“region of the lambdoid suture .” 10 He also concluded that the back ends 
of australopithecine brains evolved (became neurologically reorganized) 
ahead of brain size and before other regions of the brain became more 
advanced, which he attributed to “mosaic brain evolution .” 11 (The sug- 
gestion that major evolutionary changes evolved at different times in 
different parts of the cerebral cortex may be envisioned as a picture 
puzzle [or mosaic] of the brain in which certain pieces were filled in 
before others .) 12 I, on the other hand, identified a little depression that 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 63 


was farther forward on the endocast (If in figure 7) as indicating the 
likely position of the uppermost end of an apelike lunate sulcus, in keep- 
ing with the rest of Taung’s apelike sulcal pattern as well as with its 
small cranial capacity. In my view, the various parts of our ancestors’ 
brains evolved in a more coordinated manner (i.e., globally) rather than 
in a rear-end-first fashion. 

In the early 1990s, my dear colleague Charles (Scooter) Hildebolt, of 
Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, in St. Louis, advised me to redirect 
my research from the debate about the lunate sulcus and toward more 
positive and potentially productive topics. His reasoning was, “Nobody 
reads these lunate sulcus papers anymore. . . . People are getting sick 
of them . . . and haven’t you said everything you have to say about the 
matter, anyway?” 13 Scooter was right, and I decided to take his advice. 
During most of the 1990s, my collaborators and I cheerfully researched 
the evolution of cranial blood flow, differences between the right and 
left sides of monkey and human sulcal patterns, comparisons of the 
brains of male and female monkeys and humans, and an assortment of 
hominin skulls that lived more recently than australopithecines. 

In 1998, an article by Glenn Conroy, of Washington University School 
of Medicine, and his colleagues appeared in Science, pulling me back 
into the australopithecine fray. 14 The article was about an adult austral- 
opithecine skull (with the museum number Stw 505) from Sterkfontein, 
South Africa, which was thought to be from an adult male of the same 
species as Taung (Australopithecus africanus), a species commonly known 
as gracile australopithecines. Researchers had been aware of Stw 505 
for some time. Because it appeared to have a huge braincase compared 
with those of other australopithecines, the general expectation was that 
its cranial capacity, when finally determined, would exceed 600 cm 3 — 
which would have been relatively whopping. 

I shared that expectation, because my copy of its endocast looked big- 
ger than the other australopithecine endocasts in my collection. Using 
three-dimensional computed tomography (3D-CT) technology, Con- 
roy’s team determined that the capacity was actually 515 cm 3 . Although 



Figure 7. My identifications placed directly on a copy of Taung’s endocast. 
Abbreviations: a\ superior parallel branch of superior temporal sulcus (ts); 
a 3 , anterior occipital branch of ts; co, coronal suture; fm, middle frontal sulcus; 
fo, fronto-orbital sulcus; fs, frontal superior sulcus; h, horizontal branch of pre- 
central inferior sulcus (pci); ip?, possible part of intraparietal sulcus, most of 
which was not reproduced on the endocast; L? depression that indicates prob- 
able top (medial) end of lunate sulcus, most of which was not reproduced on 
the endocast; lb, lambdoid suture; Ic, lateral calcarine sulcus; m, meningeal ves- 
sels; oci, inferior occipital sulcus; r, rectus sulcus; tm, middle temporal sulcus; 
tp, temporal pole; u, separate branch of Ic. Other depressions and possible faint 
sulci are indicated with stipples and dashes. The “chip” of adhering bone, 
the sutures, and the vessels are superficial to the sulci. Notice the damaged 
(rough) areas. Dart recognized a short segment of lb just slightly behind the 
lower part of the actual suture in an unpublished illustration (figure 8) and 
related notes. The tp was recently restored by Ron Clarke (Falk and Clarke 
2007). Photograph byjason S. Ordaz. 




Sulcal Skirmishes / 65 


this was the largest braincase volume known for gracile australopith- 
ecines (which averaged about 450 cm 3 ), this size was considerably smaller 
than anticipated. Something was very wrong, and Conroy’s team sug- 
gested that the problem might be that the published cranial capacities 
of other australopithecines with whom Stw 505 had been visually com- 
pared were reconstructed as larger than they should have been. 15 

That suggestion sent me running to my collection of endocasts and 
copies of their corresponding skulls. At the time, I was directing two 
fabulous graduate students, John Redmond, Jr., who had a knack for 
statistics and computers, and John Guyer, whose anatomical knowledge 
and artistic skills were perfect for doing hominin reconstructions. We 
soon realized that earlier workers who had filled in the missing parts 
on a number of australopithecine endocasts had made them too large. 
This seemed especially true for the second type of australopithecine 
(Paranthropus), which Dart’s colleague Robert Broom had discovered. 
Paranthropus skulls were much more rugged-looking than those of grac- 
ile australopithecines, as reflected in their large, flat faces, humongous 
molars, and crests of bone that served as anchors for chewing muscles. 
This is why they are commonly called robust australopithecines. What 
Redmond, Guyer, and I discovered was that, despite their macho- 
looking skulls, Paranthropus endocasts had stubby little temporal lobes 
and small, pointed frontal lobes compared with those of gracile austra- 
lopithecines, which dramatically affected the overall shape that recon- 
structed Paranthropus endocasts should have had. 

It looked to us as if a nearly complete endocast from an adult Australo- 
pithecus africanus (STS 5, “Mrs. Pies”) had served as the model for miss- 
ing parts in Paranthropus endocasts, which resulted in the reconstruc- 
tions of their temporal and frontal lobes as unrealistically large, thus 
causing their cranial capacities to be inflated. Using more appropriate 
Paranthropus endocasts as models, we provided our own reconstructions 
and determined new cranial capacities for these specimens, which had 
implications for brain-size evolution in hominins. 16 

Our results led us to question the generally accepted idea that brain 


66 / Sulcal Skirmishes 


size began to increase suddenly around 2 million years ago. Instead, it 
appeared that the increase had started much earlier (perhaps before 
3 million years ago) and then continued more or less steadily during 
the course of hominin evolution. We also observed that the shapes of 
certain parts of the temporal and frontal lobes of Australopithecus africa- 
nus were advanced compared with those of Paranthropus, even though 
the sulcal patterns of both kinds of hominin were completely apelike. 
This suggested that Holloway had been right about the brains of at least 
some australopithecines being neurologically reorganized despite their 
small, apelike size. 

The long debate that has been characterized with Dart, other great 
men, and Holloway on one side versus Falk on the other is in need 
of serious reassessment, however. As discussed below, I recently stud- 
ied Raymond Dart’s unpublished manuscripts, illustrations, and per- 
sonal papers and learned a good deal about what he really thought about 
Taung’s endocast in particular and australopithecine brain evolution in 
general. To my utter astonishment, Dart’s papers revealed that he and 
I independently provided the same identifications for most of the sulci 
that appear on Taung’s endocast. In contrast to Holloway’s views about 
mosaic brain evolution, Dart concluded that australopithecine brains 
evolved in a more global manner. 17 In other words, Dart and I shared the 
view that the hind end of the brain did not evolve ahead of the rest of it. 

REVELATIONS IN THE WITS ARCHIVES 

In July 2008 , 1 traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to visit the Uni- 
versity of Witwatersrand Archives and to learn more about Raymond 
Dart’s announcement of Taung in 1925 and the controversy that it gen- 
erated among the public and scientists alike. Why were people so upset? 
How did the controversy affect Dart personally and scientifically? Did 
it cause him to suspend or modify his research — and, if so, how? As I 
mentioned in the previous chapters, Dart’s unpublished materials pro- 
vided the answers I was seeking. 


Sulcal Skirmishes j 67 


As luck would have it, I got more than I bargained for at Wits. The 
last thing I was thinking about when I stepped into the archives was 
the debate about the lunate sulcus. After all, Dart had published only 
two sulcal identifications for Taung’s endocast (the superior temporal 
and the lunate, shown in figure 5) — and one of them was simply wrong. 
The feature that Dart identified as the lunate sulcus was the lambdoid 
suture, pure and simple. After decades of fencing with Holloway about 
the matter, I was simply wrung out and had no expectations of learning 
anything that would rekindle my interest in the matter. 

I was mistaken, however, because Dart’s reactions to the controver- 
sial storm that greeted his discovery involved extensive soul searching 
about Taung’s endocast, including his identification of its lunate sulcus. 
Dart’s voluminous 1929 manuscript that was rejected for publication, for 
example, went far beyond his 1925 Nature paper in its analysis of Taung’s 
endocast. 18 In addition to the two sulci that Dart had identified in his 
initial publication, figure 19 of his unpublished manuscript (figure 8 here) 
illustrated and named 14 other sulci. And to think, this illustration had 
languished unknown in the archives for 80 years! 

And a very telling illustration Dart’s figure 19 is. For one thing, Dart 
used dashed lines to indicate sutures from the skull that were repro- 
duced on the endocast. (Recall from chapter 2 that a suture is a ridge 
where bones of the skull have knitted together, whereas a sulcus is a 
groove that separates swellings of gray matter.) The short dashed line 
directly behind the feature that Dart identified as the lunate sulcus (L) 
is especially revealing, because he meant it to indicate the lambdoid 
suture, which he had not mentioned or illustrated in his initial publi- 
cation. On page 168 of his 1929 manuscript, however, Dart stated, “On 
the right side of the cast, it [the lunate sulcus] coincides in position 
with the lambdoid suture in portion of its extent.” In other unpublished 
notes, he wrote, “Lunatus sulcus is present as an arc-like depression 
about 25 mm. in length. . . . The lunate depression is almost coincident 
throughout a large portion of its course with the lambdoidal suture.” 
Dart’s belated depiction of a lambdoid suture on Taung’s endocast was 


68 / Sulcal Skirmishes 



Figure 8. Figure 19 from Dart’s unpublished manuscript (Dart 1929), with the 
legend “Dioptographic tracing of skull & endocranial cast of Australopithecus 
to illustrate their main morphological features.” Dart indicated sutures with 
the internal dashed lines. Sulcal identifications are in Dart’s handwriting. Of 
these identifications, only L and trwere published in Dart’s original paper. 
Compare with figure 7. Reproduced with permission of the University of 
Witwatersrand. 


awkward, because he continued to portray the actual suture as the 
lunate sulcus and added an approximately 14-mm dashed line to repre- 
sent the suture right behind it. Furthermore, his illustration has part of 
the lunate sulcus on top of the suture, which is anatomically backward. 
(Sutures appear more superficial to sulci on endocasts.) As far as I know, 
Dart’s figure 19 is the only illustration in which he ever portrayed a 
lambdoid suture and, further, the only one in which he illustrated both 
a lambdoid suture and a lunate sulcus. This figure is especially poi- 
gnant, because it shows that Dart was well aware that he had a lunate 
sulcus/lambdoid suture problem and tried to solve it years before it was 
addressed in a publication by Le Gros Clark and his colleagues. 19 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 69 


Putting the lunate sulcus aside for the moment, I find it interesting 
to compare my sulcal identifications for the Taung endocast (figure 7) 
with Dart’s previously unknown identifications, which have just sur- 
faced (figure 8). To my surprise and delight, Dart saw and illustrated 
every single sulcus that I identified on the Taung endocast, although 
our names for some of them differed — particularly at the back end of 
the endocast. 20 This close agreement between Dart’s and my visual 
perceptions of sulci contrasts with the opinion that “almost none [of the 
sulci] can be identified with any certitude. . . . There is simply too much 
damage and lack of clarity on the rest of the frontal lobe of the Taung 
specimen to attempt such categorical labeling of gyri and sulci.” 21 
The lunate sulcus has been such a lightning rod for debate because it 
is a feature that clearly distinguishes human from ape brains. As shown 
in figure 5, apes have a lunate sulcus that is far forward on their brains. 
Humans do not, and for over a century scientists have believed this 
to be the result of the lunate sulcus’s displacement toward the back of 
the brain by the enlargement of cortical association areas in front of 
the sulcus. 22 In keeping with this, small lunate sulci have sometimes 
been identified toward the back of human brains, which is where Dart 
depicted the sulcus when he misidentified the lambdoid suture as the 
lunate sulcus on Taung (figure 5). A recent magnetic resonance imaging 
(MRI) study on the sulci of no living people, however, raises serious 
questions about whether or not human brains ever have lunate sulci like 
those of apes (albeit in a different location). 23 In the rare instances when 
sulci were found near the back of the brain, appearing crescent-shaped 
like the lunate sulci of apes, the resemblance proved to be merely 
superficial, because, unlike in apes, in people these sulci did not extend 
beneath the surface and did not approximate the front border of the 
primary visual cortex. It may, thus, be that lunate sulci that once bor- 
dered the visual cortex in our ancestors simply disappeared as brains 
enlarged and became internally reorganized over time. Lunate sulci 
do not reproduce well on endocasts of apes, so it is not surprising that 
a clear one does not occur on Taung’s ape-sized endocast. 24 Could the 


70 / Sulcal Skirmishes 


little dimple labeled “L?” in figure 7 represent the top end of a lunate 
sulcus? Sure. And if it did not, there is still plenty of room behind it to 
accommodate an apelike lunate sulcus that simply didn’t leave its mark 
within Taung’s braincase. 25 

One other sulcus is equally telling when it comes to distinguishing 
human from ape brains, namely the fronto-orbital sulcus (fo). In apes, this 
short sulcus incises the edge of the frontal lobe and continues underneath 
it. The fronto-orbital sulcus never appears on the surface of the frontal 
lobes in humans, however, because it was displaced to deeper parts of the 
brain during the evolutionary expansion of the cerebral cortex (figure j ). 26 
It is significant that Dart and I both identified the same sulcus as fo on 
Taung’s endocast. In his words, “There is the customary sulcus fronto- 
orbitalis, incising the superciliary border of the cast, 20 mm. in front of the 
Sylvian depression.” 27 (Dart seemed to have been unaware that fo does not 
appear on the surface of human brains when he clearly identified this fea- 
ture on Taung and, further, argued that its configuration was humanlike.) 

Taung’s entire sulcal pattern was apelike, and Dart perceived most 
of it accurately, although he was mistaken on a few identifications at 
the back end of the endocast. 28 His critics knew this and were tough on 
him, which upset him terribly. For example, he expressed the following 
sentiments about the 1936 paper by Le Gros Clark and his colleagues 
that debunked his identification of Taung’s lunate sulcus: “In this inno- 
cent looking paper these three British anatomists were striving to fol- 
low up Sir Arthur Keith’s (1931) thesis of discrediting the neurological 
basis upon which my interpretation of the significance of the Taungs 
discover[y] had originally rested. Their reputation locally in England 
was such that, had no further australopithecine remains been coming to 
light simultaneously, their views might well have prevailed.” 29 

As we saw in chapter 3, Dart’s reactions to the controversy surround- 
ing his discovery were varied: He quit doing paleoanthropology for 
some time, became depressed, threw himself into teaching and admin- 
istrative work, and even had a nervous breakdown. His most construc- 
tive response, however, was to write his extensive manuscript during 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 71 


the four years following the publication of his 1925 Nature paper, pro- 
viding more details about his discovery in that manuscript. Dart went 
much further in this monograph than simply describing Taung’s entire 
sulcal pattern for the first time. He also bolstered his argument that 
Taung’s brain was advanced compared with those of apes by detailing 
expansions that had occurred in three significant areas of the cerebral 
cortex. Long before my two graduate students and I realized that endo- 
casts of gracile australopithecines had more advanced shapes than those 
of robust australopithecines, Dart had discovered that the overall shape 
of the Taung endocast was advanced toward a human condition. It is a 
shame that his manuscript was never published, because Dart’s observa- 
tions about brain shape could have sparked an earlier understanding of 
certain important details about brain evolution. 

BRAIN SHAPE 

Dart devoted 33 pages of his 1929 manuscript to a discussion about the 
shape of three cortical association areas on the Taung endocast. (Unlike 
the primary sensory and motor areas, association areas process and syn- 
thesize information that is received from various parts of the brain.) This 
discussion went far beyond Dart’s earlier observations. 30 Some of its more 
interesting aspects are discussed here, and because Dart’s unpublished 
manuscript is of historical importance, his own words are quoted at some 
length. 31 Given his exclusive focus on two sulci at the back end of Taung’s 
endocast in his 1925 Nature paper, it was startling to learn that, by 1929, 
Dart thought information about expansion in three cortical association 
areas that were widely distributed across the endocast was the only type 
of evidence that could indicate the evolutionary relationship between 
Australopithecus and humans: 

It is important to reiterate that the only type of evidence the cast can yield, 
which would indicate proximity to Man, is that of expanded association cortices; 
which by their localisation, have profoundly afFected the shape of the brains 
as compared with those of living Apes. Further, the particular regions of the 


72 / Sulcal Skirmishes 


lateral brain surface which are especially expanded in Man and have affected 
its general contour as compared with Apes, are three in number. They are 
what Elliot Smith . . . has called the “three significant cortical areas” . . . and 
are the parietal, the inferior frontal or prefrontal and the inferior temporal. 
Genuine expansion in these regions . . . constitutes trustworthy evidence in 
demonstrating the ancestral relationship of this Anthropoid to Man. 32 

Although Dart had discussed the first cortical area, the parietal 
association cortex, to a limited extent in 1925, in 1929 he noted that the 
lunate and superior temporal sulci did not limit the area in which pari- 
etal expansion had occurred but instead served merely as a guide to 
“expansile changes” that had taken place in a large part of the back 
end of the brain. 33 Significantly, Dart specified the shape features of the 
Taung endocast that were correlated with this expansion, including an 
increased arc and humanlike doming of the parietal cortex and also a 
posterior protrusion of the occipital lobe that overhung the cerebellum 
beneath it, which was located in a more anterior position. 34 (This shape 
difference may be seen by comparing the back end of the Taung endo- 
cast with that of the chimpanzee brain in figure 5.) 

The second expanded area that Dart discussed for the Taung endo- 
cast was at the other end of the brain, in the frontal lobe. He credited 
this observation to his mentor, Elliot Smith, who observed that the edge 
of Taung’s frontal lobe was more pronounced over the eye sockets com- 
pared with the shape seen in ape brains and that, in this regard, Taung 
appeared to be as developed as Pithecanthropus (now Homo) erectus. Dart 
attributed this bulging of Taung’s prefrontal cortex to expansive shape 
changes that had taken place at the edge of and underneath the frontal 
lobes and suggested that these changes had affected the entire region. 3S 
He also noted that this “localized growth . . . bespeaks an advancement 
in intelligence — of forethought and skill — such as is encountered in 
no other Ape whatever, but which is found elsewhere only in Primitive 
Man.” 36 

The third area of Taung’s endocast that Dart described as having an 
advanced shape toward a human condition is near the middle and hot- 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 73 


tom of the brain in the temporal lobe: “There is present simultaneously 
a marked relative widening of the lower portion of the contour, which 
corresponds with a relatively increased expansion of the posterior part 
of the temporal region, especially in its inferior part.” 37 Interestingly, 
Dart attributed the shape of Taung’s temporal lobe to an improved 
ability for interpreting social sounds and cries: “The process of wid- 
ening in the temporal lobe indicates a general improvement beyond 
the Chimpanzee in its capacity to recognize the significance of sounds, 
and to interpret the significance of the cries emitted by his compan- 
ions and the ideas underlying their employment.” 38 However, he did 
not think that Taung’s temporal lobe was as advanced as the parietal 
and prefrontal cortices, because, in his opinion (also expressed in 1925), 
Australopithecus had not yet evolved speech. 

Dart nevertheless thought that Taung’s brain had evolved globally as 
a result of bipedalism, rather than in the more piecemeal hind-end-first 
manner suggested by others: 39 

It would be erroneous to believe that in the assumption of the erect attitude, 
the only necessary cerebral development, important as it might be, was a 
fine coordination of visual impressions with those streaming into the cor- 
tex from the trunk and lower limbs themselves. On the sensory side it also 
involved enhanced representation of vestibular sensation [for balance] in the 
temporal cortex; in addition to the tactile, [and] muscular . . . delegations 
in the parietal cortex. On the motor side the phenomenon was even more 
complex; for the ascendancy of the forebrain over the brain stem and the 
cerebellum, as a pliable posture-regulating mechanism, is achieved through 
descending tracts from the prefrontal, temporal, occipital and probably also 
the parietal territories (see Elliot Smith . . . ). The assumption of the erect 
posture and the ability to display great muscular skill therefore depends 
upon the orderly expansion of all three of the significant cortices. 40 

Dart’s detailed description of the three advanced regions on Taung’s 
endocast, combined with the observation that Taung’s sulcal pattern 
was, in fact, completely apelike, suggests to me that shape changes 
associated with cortical expansions preceded changes in sulcal patterns 


74 / Sulcal Skirmishes 


during hominin evolution. This makes perfect sense in light of what is 
known about the mechanical properties involved in the development of 
the convolutions and sulci of the brain. 41 Although Dart was mistaken 
about the lunate sulcus, he deserves credit for pioneering the field of 
hominin paleoneurology, including his belatedly revealed interpreta- 
tion of advanced shape features across the surface of Taung’s endocast 
that presaged more recent discoveries. 

Studying endocasts entails a necessary element of speculation, be- 
cause, until a time machine is invented, as I mentioned in chapter 2, 
we have no way to use modern technology to study the neurological 
functions of our prehistoric ancestors. Doing research on endocasts is 
also frustrating, because the information that can be gleaned from them 
is, literally, superficial. As we have seen, Dart’s critics caused him great 
distress. Perhaps it was in response to them that he wrote the following 
defense of studying primate endocasts, with an eloquence that will be 
appreciated by any paleoneurologist who has been accused of practic- 
ing phrenology (which is an occupational hazard): 

If the form of endocranial cast is unintelligible, the comparative neurologi- 
cal studies of the last half century are a mockery, a delusion and a snare. 
It would be deplorable if, at this stage of neurological history, no tangible 
conclusions could be drawn from the shape of the simian endocranial cast, 
which Nature has provided for scrutiny; and dismal indeed, when the gap 
separating Man from the Apes is so patently cerebral and psychological, 
rather than structural or bodily. Such an attitude towards the study of endo- 
cranial casts today would be obscurantist and disastrous . 42 

When I first sat in the Wits Archives and set eyes on Dart’s analyses 
of the three significant areas that had advanced shapes on Taung’s endo- 
cast, I was utterly amazed. My astonishment was not caused by any- 
thing I knew about australopithecine endocasts. Rather, it was caused 
by what I had learned about the endocast of another hominin that was 
recently discovered and announced in Nature in 2oo4. 43 Her nickname 
is Hobbit, and she lived a mere 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores, 
in Indonesia. Hobbit’s species (Homo floresiensis) is currently at the center 


Sulcal Skirmishes / 75 


of a controversy rivaling the one that greeted Dart’s discovery of the 
over-2-million-year-old Taung specimen (Australopithecus afiricanus). And 
once again, the brain is a particular focus of the debate. My colleagues 
and I were extraordinarily fortunate to be invited to do the analysis 
of Hobbit’s endocast. Her story, which is still unraveling, is just as full 
of academic intrigue and infighting as Taung’s. It is the subject of the 
second half of this book. 


FIVE 


Once upon a Hobbit 


Referring to the extremely small size of the species, after an 
imaginary race of half-sized, hairy-footed characters in the 
universally popular The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, . . . 
the name Hobbit was, I thought, singularly appropriate: a little 
person that lived in a cosy hole in the ground on an isolated 
Middle Earth island. LBi [was] familiar with a type of extinct 
elephant and was chased by Komodo dragons — the Flores 
version of “Oliphaunts” and the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. 

Mike Morwood 


On the afternoon of October 27, 2004, I was sitting at the computer in 
my study. The phone rang. When I answered it, a man said, “I’d like to 
speak with Dean Falk.” 

“Uh, this is she.” 

“My name’s David Hamlin, and I’m from the National Geographic 
Society,” he replied. 

Because telemarketers make me grumpy, my response was a suspi- 
cious, “Yes?” As I contemplated hanging up, he added, “And I’m not sell- 
ing yellow magazines.” Hamlin explained that he was a film producer 
with National Geographic Television and that he had been wanting to 
talk with me for months. But he couldn’t until now, he said, because 
what he was about to tell me had been embargoed by Nature magazine, 
and that embargo had only just lifted. 

That got my attention. Nature is one of the most important scientific 


76 


Once upon a Hobbit / 77 


journals in the world for announcing major new discoveries — the very 
journal in which Dart had described Taung and established the new 
genus and species Australopithecus africanus? The competition to publish 
in Nature is fierce. Researchers lucky enough to have an article accepted 
are warned that they must keep their findings secret until the editors at 
Nature say they can talk (or write) about them. Nature usually does not 
lift this embargo until the day before the article is published. (Authors 
know that their article may be withdrawn if someone spills the beans 
before then, which tends to keep them in line.) 

Hamlin proceeded to tell me about a new human species, Homoflo- 
resiensis, which had been unearthed in a cave on the island of Flores, 
in Indonesia. Fragments of at least eight skeletons had been recovered, 
and they were remarkably tiny compared with those of prehistoric 
humans or even living pygmies. Despite having a miniscule ape-sized 
brain, Homo floresiensis was associated with stone tools and had hunted 
a pygmy species of stegodont (a now-extinct mammal related to mast- 
odons, mammoths, and elephants) and giant carnivorous lizards known 
as Komodo dragons. Fragments of the new species had been excavated 
near butchered and charred animal bones that hinted at the use of fire 
and cooking. Plus, some of the individuals had lived as recently as 17,000 
years ago — a mere yesterday when one considers that hominins have 
been around for some 5 million to 7 million years. 2 This was a shock. 
Until now, Homo sapiens was believed to have been the only hominin 
species that lived so recently. 

Incredulous, I asked, “Are you making this up?” Hamlin laughed and 
assured me that he was not. In fact, he had just returned from filming in 
Indonesia for a forthcoming television special called Tiny Humans: The 
Hobbits of Flores? The 18,000-year-old type specimen was a tiny skeleton 
of a grown woman nicknamed Hobbit, after one of the heroes ofj. R. R. 
Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, because she had stood only three to three 
and a half feet tall. (She was also more formally known by her museum 
number, LBi, which indicated the limestone cave, Liang Bua, in which 
her remains were found.) 


78 / Once upon a Hobbit 


Figure 9. Although this strik- 
ing image of a male hobbit, 
illustrated by the artist Peter 
Schouten, sparked the imagina- 
tions of scientists and the public 
alike, Hobbit (LBi) was female. 
Courtesy of Peter Schouten. 



All of a sudden Hamlin said, “Whoooooa!” 

“What?” 

“I’m sitting in front of my computer, and I can’t believe how quickly 
the news is coming up around the world.” While we continued to talk, 
I called up a news site on my computer and watched in amazement as 
Hobbit stories popped up one after another. Any doubts that I may have 
had about Hamlin’s story vanished. The accounts mentioned that two 
articles about Homo floresiensis would appear in Nature the following day. 
The first focused on the skeleton of LBi, and its lead author was the 
Australian paleoanthropologist Peter Brown . 4 The companion article 


Once upon a Hobbit / 79 


covered the archaeology and dating of Homo floresiensis, and its senior 
author was an Australian archaeologist and coleader of the team that 
discovered LBi, Mike Morwood. 5 The unfolding news also held a touch 
of irony, however, because the artist’s now-famous image of what a hob- 
bit looked like was clearly male, despite being based on LBi’s female 
skeleton (figure 9)! 

“The reason I’m calling,” Hamlin continued, “is becausejohn Gurche 
is reconstructing Hobbit’s face for our film, and when I asked who we 
should get to do the endocast, Mike Morwood suggested you.” 

I asked whether I would actually get to study LBi’s endocast. He 
replied that it was an invitation to participate in the film and to conduct 
the relevant research. To put it mildly, I could not believe my luck. 
“Sure, sure,” I thought, “like I’m really going to get to do this. No way. I 
just know they’ll change their minds.” 

But they didn’t. During the following weeks, David and I got to know 
each other during frequent phone conversations about the progress on 
his film script and about anthropology in general. His plan was to mail 
a replica of LBi’s skull to me so that I could prepare a rubber (latex) 
endocast from its braincase. 6 But before proceeding, I needed to learn 
more about the evolutionary questions that LBi was raising, as well as 
the paleopolitics surrounding her discovery. 

PERPLEXING QUESTIONS 

Nothing about Hobbit made sense. Her tiny brain size and peculiar 
body proportions (long arms, short legs) differed dramatically from 
other humans — recent or fossil. Although all of the Homo floresiensis 
remains were dated between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago and came from 
only one cave (Liang Bua), stone tools like those from the cave were 
found elsewhere in the site of Wolo Sege, on Flores, in deposits that 
were over 1 million years old! 7 In fact, the presence of ancient tools was 
one of the main reasons why Morwood decided to excavate at Liang 
Bua in the first place. Clearly, somebody had made those tools, and he 


8 o / Once upon a Hobbit 


wanted to find out who. It is a good bet that Homo floresiensis' s ancestor 
made the older tools. 8 

But what did that ancestor look like? Was it small like Homo floresiensis 
or considerably larger like Homo erectus, the only other known hominin 
in the region, who had been living a couple of islands to the west (on 
Java) when those first tools were flaked on Flores? At first, the discov- 
erers thought that Homo erectus may have been Hobbit’s ancestor, even 
though body size had generally increased, not decreased, during hom- 
inin evolution. After all, island-dwelling animals are known to evolve 
in unusual ways. Once they settle on islands, over time certain large- 
bodied species of mammals become dwarfed, whereas some smaller 
species grow to gigantic proportions. Although this has happened on 
islands everywhere, the so-called island rule 9 is somewhat misnamed, 
because it does not apply to all mammals. Mice and certain rodents 
have tended to become larger on islands, but equally small squirrels, 
bats, and shrews have not. 10 Similarly, only some of the large mammals, 
such as deer and elephants, have evolved a smaller stature on islands. 

Around 900,000 years ago, a massive volcanic eruption eliminated 
much of the animal life on Flores, including a species of giant tortoise 
and a very small-bodied stegodont. Giant Komodo dragons survived 
the event, however, and inhabit the island today, although in greatly 
reduced numbers. Not long after the eruption, a few terrestrial animals 
managed to reach the island, probably as passengers on uprooted trees 
or other floating debris during tsunamis and violent storms or, in the 
case of stegodonts, by swimming. Among these were a medium-to- 
large stegodont, a rat, and, as indicated by their tools, the presumed 
ancestor of Homo floresiensis." After that, no other mammals successfully 
colonized Flores until another volcanic eruption created empty niches 
around 17,000 years ago. ( Homo sapiens arrived around 11,000 years ago.) 
The mammals that settled on Flores soon after the volcanic eruption 
900,000 years ago, thus, gave rise to those found in the fossil record 
before the more recent eruption. 12 As is common under these circum- 
stances, the smaller-bodied animals, such as rodents, proliferated into 


Once upon a Hobbit / 81 


a variety of species that took advantage of recently vacated niches, 
which entailed some of the species becoming larger-bodied. As Darwin 
showed long ago, this goes a long way toward explaining the trends 
toward gigantism on islands that are remote and relatively impover- 
ished of animal life. 13 

But what explains insular dwarfing? For example, the fossil record 
of Flores shows that by 95,000 years ago stegodonts had become 30 per- 
cent smaller than their almost 700,000-year-old ancestors. A number 
of factors may have contributed to such downsizing. 14 In order to avoid 
extinction, species need enough resources to support an adequate num- 
ber of breeding individuals. Stegodonts may have become dwarfed on 
Flores in the face of limited food supplies for the simple reason that a 
greater number of smaller individuals could be sustained by the same 
amount of resources needed to support a smaller population of bigger 
ones. Also, Flores stegodonts had no need to remain large as a defense 
against larger predators, because none occurred on the island. There 
may have been other, more subtle, reasons why some animals have 
shrunk on islands. Smaller-bodied mammals are usually more efficient 
at regulating body temperature in tropical climates, like that of Flores, 
and tend to have higher rates of reproduction than larger mammals. 

Homo erectus from Java is thought to have been almost the size of mod- 
ern humans, so it was neither very large like an elephant nor very small 
like a mouse. If Homo erectushad colonized Flores, would its descendants 
have conformed to the island rule? Perhaps. For one thing, the thresh- 
old for adult body size that best separates insular mammals that have 
become dwarfed from those that have become giants is roughly 10 kg 
(22 lbs.), 15 and Homo floresiensis s estimated weight of 30-35 kg (66 — 77 lbs.) 
was well above this threshold. 16 This strongly suggests that Flobbit’s 
ancestors may have become dwarfed over time, but they were very 
unlikely to have experienced gigantism. There is another clue that is 
consistent with Homo floresiensis having been an insular dwarf. Although 
the island rule does not hold for all mammals, it describes a slight but 
significant trend for animals that eat a combination of plant and animal 


82 / Once upon a Hobbit 


food (omnivores) and has also been confirmed for at least some insular 
primates . 17 The archaeological evidence at Liang Bua shows that hobbits 
were clearly omnivorous hunters and gatherers, in addition to being 
insular primates. So maybe their ancestors were larger-bodied Homo 
erectus individuals (or ancestors of Homo erectus) who somehow got to the 
island of Flores around a million years ago — no small feat, given the 
isolation of the island and the strong ocean currents in that part of the 
world . 18 

Clearly, the possibility that Homo floresiemis was a dwarfed descendant 
of Homo erectus could not be ruled out on the basis of body size. Never- 
theless, some scientists were extremely skeptical because the physical 
appearances of the two species were just too different. Unlike Hobbit’s, 
the proportions of Homo erectus s arms and legs looked like those of liv- 
ing people rather than those of long-armed apes or australopithecines. 
Further, the size of Homo erectus ’s brain was more than double that of 
Hobbit’s, and the ratio of brain size to body size (called relative brain 
size, or RBS) was also much greater. Hobbit’s RBS, on the other hand, 
was comparable to that of a chimpanzee or an australopithecine like 
Taung. This fact led some researchers to claim that it was impossible 
for Homo floresiensis to have made the stone tools that were unearthed 
near its remains. 


HOW SMART WERE HOBBITS? 

In industrialized cultures, intelligence-quotient tests may be used with 
varying degrees of success to quantify how relatively “smart” individu- 
als are. As we all know, such tests can have life-altering repercussions. 
For example, students may or may not be admitted to certain universi- 
ties because of their scores. Heavy reliance on IQ^or Scholastic Aptitude 
Tests, et cetera, for such purposes has been criticized, because, to be 
unbiased, they must be designed according to the values and practices 
that test takers have been exposed to while growing up. This is the 
reason intelligence tests are described as “culture-bound.” 


Once upon a Hobbit j 83 


IQ_ tests developed for industrialized societies are of no use in the 
dwindling number of hunting and gathering cultures that still exist in 
some parts of the world. In some of these groups, people cannot count 
beyond the fingers on one hand or read, but this does not mean that 
they are less intelligent than people in industrialized societies. Rather, 
their intelligence is used for cognitive activities other than the ones that 
have become adaptive in Western cultures. For example, without writ- 
ten records, individuals in traditional societies have rich oral traditions, 
including grasps of family networks that are unparalleled in industrial- 
ized societies. People in many nonindustrialized societies also grow up 
learning to recognize plants and “read” animal tracks with a facility that 
amazes visiting anthropologists. In short, people everywhere use their 
highly evolved brains to develop cognitive skills that are appropriate 
for their particular environments — be they from a huge, bustling city 
or a desolate desert in a remote part of the planet. A poignant example 
is offered by cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene: 

Years of experience with hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, New Guinea, 
or the African bush led anthropologists to marvel at the aborigines’ ability 
to read the natural world. They decipher animal tracks with amazing ease. 
Meticulous inspection of broken branches or faint tracks in the dirt allows 
them to quickly figure out what animal has been around, its size, the direc- 
tion in which it went, and a number of other details that will be invaluable 
for hunting. We are essentially “illiterate” about all these natural signs. It is 
possible that reading of animal tracks is the cortical precursor for reading. 19 

Anthropologists are at a disadvantage when it comes to assessing 
intelligent behaviors in prehistoric hominins, who are no longer around. 
Scientists must therefore resort to inferring past behaviors from skeletal 
remains and the archaeological record of material culture, the oldest 
signs of which are stone-tool cut and percussion marks for flesh and 
marrow removal on bones dated to 3.4 million years ago in Dikika, 
Ethiopia. 20 These marks indicate that hominins were using sharp-edged 
and blunt stone tools by that time. The earliest recognized actual stone 
tools are also from Ethiopia and date to about 2.6 million years ago. 


84 / Once upon a Hobbit 


But the significance of these tools must be interpreted in light of the 
fact that great apes use tools. Chimps from the Ivory Coast, in Africa, 
for example, famously use rocks to crack open nuts. Another group of 
chimpanzees, from Tanzania, is well known for making “fishing” poles 
by trimming blades of grass before poking them into termite hills to 
catch snacks. 21 Despite their impressive use of these and other tools, 
no wild apes have been seen deliberately modifying rocks into tools. 
Remarkably, hominins were making stone tools by at least 2.6 million 
years ago, even though the sizes of their brains were within the range for 
modern apes. Presumably, it took more intelligence than a chimpanzee 
has to shape rocks into tools, although different hominins did so in dif- 
ferent ways. For this reason, the stone tools on Flores are significant for 
assessing intelligence in Homo floresiensis. 

Mark Moore, of the University ofNew England, in Australia, directed 
an extensive analysis of artifacts from different strata that spanned the 
last 95,000 years at Liang Bua. 22 One of his team’s goals was to recon- 
struct exactly how Homo floresiensis produced (knapped) a large variety of 
stone tools, including flakes that were retouched on one or more edges, 
blades, and perforating tools (figure 10). They also investigated the dif- 
ferent kinds of rocks that were used to make tools, their sources, and 
whether hobbits had produced the tools inside or outside the cave. In 
addition, they wanted to learn whether the kinds of tools at Liang Bua 
and the methods for producing them changed over time. 

To knap a stone tool requires good hand-eye coordination and knowl- 
edge about how particular kinds of rocks fracture when struck in dif- 
ferent ways. The essence of knapping consists in striking rocks with 
other stones or with bones until they fracture into two or more parts. 
In this manner, the original rock is reduced to smaller useful pieces (or 
flakes), which may be further modified into other tools by delivering a 
series of additional blows using a variety of methods. Skilled knappers 
know exactly how to adjust the intensity of strikes delivered to stone 
tools in order to change their contours or strengthen their edges. Some 


Once upon a Hobbit / 85 



Figure 10. Mark Moore knaps 
some tools at Liang Bua. Pho- 
tographed by Djuna Ivereigh/ 
ARKENAS. 


anthropologists believe that the particular finished tool the knapper has 
in mind determines the locations of strikes and the order used in spe- 
cific knapping gestures. Like a favorite recipe, tool-making sequences 
(called reduction sequences) tend to be consistent within a culture. 

Moore and his colleagues used a straightforward method for disen- 
tangling the sequence with which Homo jloresiensis shaped different kinds 
of flake tools. They collected the tools along with the scattered bits 
of stone that the hobbits had removed from larger rocks in producing 
the tools and compared them with similar flakes and debris that were 
generated elsewhere by modern stone knappers using known sequences 
of gestures. Another method used by the archaeologists was to fit the 
tools and the scattered bits back together, like three-dimensional jig- 
saw puzzles, to determine the order of flake removal. This informa- 


86 / Once upon a Hobbit 


tion, along with observations of percussion scars on flakes, also helped 
Moore determine how the Flores knappers had held and rotated the 
rocks as they shaped them into specific types of flakes. 23 The archaeolo- 
gists were, thus, able to infer some conventionalized movements used 
by Homo floresiemis from stones! 

Moore’s hard work produced a fascinating picture of hobbit material 
culture. Their tools and production techniques changed very little while 
Homo floresiensis lived at Liang Bua between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago. 
The “early reduction flakes,” which far outnumbered the other types 
of stone tools recovered from Liang Bua, were made with the freehand 
technique, that is, simply by striking cores with hard-hammers. Three 
other methods were also used to create various flake tools: In the trunca- 
tion technique, flakes were placed on flat stones (anvils) and then broken 
by delivering blows to their flattest surfaces with hammerstones. The 
bipolar technique was similar, except the flakes were placed edge-on 
with respect to the anvil and struck with hammerstones on their upper- 
most edges. The fourth technique used at Liang Bua was burination, in 
which knappers struck flakes from the edges of cores, which resulted 
in tools with sharp cutting edges. The more pointed tools that resulted 
from burination were probably used as perforators. These techniques 
were relatively undemanding and similar to those used by nonmodern 
hominins elsewhere in Southeast Asia. 

Hobbits made their tools out of water-rolled cobbles they picked 
up in a local riverbed and from fine-grained chert gathered from river 
gravels. Whole cobbles and relatively large flake “blanks” were carried 
into the cave to be knapped into various tools. Older flaking debris was 
also reused to make tools. Although the stone technology used at Liang 
Bua was, according to Moore and his colleagues, “unsophisticated when 
measured against archaeological convention,” there is ample evidence 
that the knappers there “were not only skilled at applying their chosen 
techniques, but they also had a large repertoire of . . . technique combi- 
nations — that were themselves mixed in non-random ways. ... A com- 
plex decision-making process was operating, although the factors gov- 


Once upon a Hobbit / 87 


erning these decisions are presently unknown. Stone flaking at Liang 
Bua was neither a random nor a casual exercise in rock-breaking.” 24 

Skeptical archaeologists have countered that the tools found at Liang 
Bua and elsewhere on Flores were so sophisticated that they must have 
been produced by Homo sapiens, even though there was no evidence 
of modern humans on the island before 11,000 years ago. 25 Moore re- 
sponded, “The case for a H. floresiensis toolmaker at Liang Bua is about as 
good as it gets. . . . The most parsimonious interpretation of the physical 
evidence ... is that the stones were flaked by the hominin found in asso- 
ciation with them, in this case H. floresiensis ,” 26 He also noted that the 
tools that predated Homo sapiens on Flores were not that sophisticated. On 
the contrary, most of them were made from cores or blanks by remov- 
ing one flake after another with a hammerstone in a simple, repetitious 
manner, which did not require the complex planning or “anticipatory” 
preparation of cores that typified many of the tools knapped by Homo 
sapiens. If some of the tools associated with hobbits appeared “decep- 
tively like highly-designed tools,” it was simply because they had over- 
lapping scars that were caused by the relatively “mindless” chaining 
together of simple strikes to the same stone. 27 

Interestingly, the basic stone-working technology associated with the 
humans who arrived on Flores by 11,000 years ago was the same as that 
used by hobbits and other nonmodern hominins in Southeast Asia. 28 
But Homo sapiens also made some changes on Flores. The amount of 
accidentally burned stone increased dramatically in the cave, as did the 
percentage of tools that were knapped from chert. For the first time, 
tools appeared with residues on their edges that gave them a polished 
look, which suggests that they may have been used to cut or split rela- 
tively soft canes or grasses for weaving into perishable artifacts. By 
4,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had enlarged the Flores toolkit to include 
rectangular adzes that were made mostly from chert and were ground 
on their edges. Presumably, these tools were used for shaping wood. 

What is particularly fascinating is that the simple tools associated 
with Homo floresiensis look surprisingly similar to the earliest stone tools 


88 / Once upon a Hobbit 


found in Africa, known as Oldowan tools, after Olduvai Gorge, in Tan- 
zania. The Oldowan “pebble tools” could have been made by austra- 
lopithecines, early Homo , or both. If we take a conservative approach, 
the minimal implication regarding Homo floresiensis' s level of intelligence 
that can be inferred from the Liang Bua tools is that hobbits were prob- 
ably more intelligent than apes and at least as smart as australopith- 
ecines. The type of tools that Homo floresiensis made, however, is only 
one line of evidence. 

The archaeological record shows that, compared with Homo floresien- 
sis, Homo sapiens engaged in a number of cognitively advanced behaviors 
after arriving on Flores. 29 For example, people deliberately interred 
their dead in the more recent strata at Liang Bua. LBi, on the other 
hand, was buried by natural processes after she died and sank into the 
mud in a shallow pool of water that was in the cave. 30 Unlike hobbits, 
Homo sapiens imported shells, used ornaments and pigments, and even- 
tually brought new species of livestock (including monkeys, pigs, and 
cattle) to the island. 

The horizontal and vertical distribution of bones, tools, and botani- 
cal evidence (including plant fibers, starches, and phytoliths) in Liang 
Bua shows that hobbits had their own advanced behaviors. 31 The par- 
ticular layers that were occupied by Homo floresiensis contained not only 
tools and knapping debris but also concentrations of stegodont bones 
that had butchery cuts. Bones from Komodo dragons, rats, birds, and 
small reptiles were also present, and botanical remains reveal that vari- 
ous plants were brought into the cave to be processed. Clearly, hobbits 
were successful hunters, scavengers, and gatherers, and their lifestyle 
remained relatively stable throughout their long tenure at Liang Bua. 
They also used fire, as shown by charcoal, charred bones, and clusters of 
fire-cracked rocks, including a circular arrangement of burned pebbles 
that may have been part of a hearth. 32 

Mike Morwood vividly envisioned what hobbit life must have been 
like in his and Penny Van Oosterzee’s book, The Discovery of the Hobbit: 


Once upon a Hobbit / 89 


I let my mind drift into the past to try to capture the emotions and feelings 
of these tiny humans who had once been alive, sheltering in Liang Bua, 
bringing in hunted game and vegetables, or bundles of firewood to be care- 
fully used for cooking, warmth and light. I could see them in my mind’s eye 
carrying in river cobbles for the hearths, which emerged intact from the 
sediment of the cave; selecting stones for anvils; squatting to make tools for 
the butchering of Komodo dragon, Stegodon and giant rat. I imagined them 
discarding the smashed remains of the skulls and the charred long-bones, 
leaving the tools smeared with the fat, blood and hair that we would later 
find and identify; imagined seeing them sitting quietly while concentrating 
on some woodwork, or communicating while repairing or hafting imple- 
ments, or preparing food. 33 


The fact that they hunted large animals, used lire, and constructed 
hearths suggests that hobbits may have been more intelligent than aus- 
tralopithecines. I also think that what Homo floresiensis did not do might 
have been indicative of intelligent behavior. Take, for example, the stego- 
dont remains at Liang Bua. Even though these stegodonts were dwarfed 
compared with their ancestors, the estimated weights for the adults still 
ranged between 770 and 2,994 pounds. At least 47 stegodont individuals 
were represented at Liang Bua, but the vast majority of their remains 
were from juveniles and newborns. 34 The predominance of mostly young 
stegodonts implies that Homo floresiensis was either unwilling or unable 
to tackle the full-grown adults. 35 When it came to big game, tiny hobbits 
seemed to know their own limitations. 

Komodo dragons were another story. Like those that live today 
on Flores and neighboring islands, adults may have grown to be 10 or 
more feet long and would have considerably outweighed tiny hobbits. 
Although these huge lizards ate carcasses of dead animals, they were 
also stealth predators. If they were like their living descendants, their 
razor-sharp teeth inflicted wounds that caused prey to become infected 
with bacteria from their saliva. Bitten animals would have been sus- 
ceptible to septic shock and even death. 36 The Komodo dragons on 


90 / Once upon a Hobbit 


Flores probably ambushed and devoured prey, including stegodonts and 
hobbits, by water sources and on game trails. 37 For their part, hobbits 
brought carcasses of Komodo dragons into Liang Bua, which suggests 
that they may have hunted them during the cooler and hotter parts of 
the day, when the giant lizards were less active. Morwood speculates 
that the hunting of stegodonts and Komodo dragons may have been 
a cooperative activity that involved language. In any event, Komodo 
dragons would have been Homo floresiensis' s worst enemy. I suspect it 
took considerable intelligence for hobbits to coexist with them on the 
same small island — not to mention the cognitive skills needed to make 
the dragons a regular part of their diet. 

PALEOPOLITICS INDONESIAN STYLE 

It took Morwood twice as long to discover Homo floresiensis as it had for 
Eugene Dubois to find Pithecanthropus erectus after he arrived in western 
Indonesia in 1887. 38 Nevertheless, LBi’s discovery in 2003 occurred only 
eight years after Morwood, while overlooking the Timor Sea off the 
northwest coast of Australia, conceived of a project to study hominin 
origins in that country and Indonesia (figure 11). Following a good deal 
of drudgery, international networking, and chasing of permits, he and 
a cadre of colleagues stepped into Liang Bua for the first time in 1999. 
Having already carried out archaeological fieldwork in the Soa Basin of 
Flores, Morwood began excavating in the cave in 2001 with a team of 
five researchers and 12 local workers under the auspices of Raden Pandji 
Soejono, who had dug there years earlier and was regarded as the “father 
of archaeology in Indonesia.” 39 The 2001 season yielded fossilized stego- 
dont remains (the first ever from an Indonesian cave), stone tools, and 
a small hominin lower arm bone (a radius) that had a puzzling bend to 
it. These finds demonstrated the enormous potential of Indonesia for a 
long-term interdisciplinary investigation. 

As Morwood pictured it, such an enterprise would require years of 
fieldwork in various sites, including Liang Bua, in addition to the help 


Once upon a Hobbit / 91 



Figure 11. Mike Morwood’s musings on a beach in 1995 began a chain of 
events that, among other things, led to the discovery of Hobbit in 2003. 
Photographed by Djuna Ivereigh/ARKENAS. 


of international experts on stone tools, plant and animal remains, the 
hominin fossil record, dating techniques, geological processes, evo- 
lutionary processes on islands, and anything else to do with past and 
present environments. Research would be carried out on both Java and 
Flores. Together with geographer Bert Roberts, of the University of 
Wollongong, Morwood submitted a grant proposal to the Australian 
Research Council (ARC): “Astride the Wallace Line: 1.5 Million Years 
of Human Evolution, Dispersal, Culture and Environmental Change 
in Indonesia.” In October 2002, they learned that the ARC was funding 
the project for four years. Only a year later, LBi was discovered, and the 
world learned about her one year after that. 40 

Similar to Dart in his recovery of Taung, Morwood was not the one 
to make the actual discovery of LBi, which took place while he was 
in Java, organizing final payments for the 2003 field season. 41 A local 
worker, Benyamin Tarus, unearthed a small portion of a skull, at which 


92 / Once upon a Hobbit 


point researchers from the Indonesian National Research Centre for 
Archaeology (ARKENAS) stepped in. 42 Wahyu Saptomo painstakingly 
excavated more of the earth surrounding the skull, which permitted 
Rhokus Due Awe to identify LBi as a hominin. Two other researchers 
from ARKENAS also had a hand in the discovery — Sri Wasisto and 
Jatmiko (figure 12; his single name perplexes journal editors). Thomas 
Sutikna, who had remained at Liang Bua as the overall director of 
the excavation, phoned Morwood with daily reports as the work pro- 
gressed, and he and Rhokus continued to clean and harden the remains 
of LBi. 

Before the project began, Morwood had wisely arranged for signed 
agreements that spelled out publication protocols, intellectual prop- 
erty rights, and procedures for resolving future conflicts. One of these, 
the Agreement of Cooperation, was thus negotiated in 2001 between 
ARKENAS and the University of New England (UNE), in Australia, 
where Morwood then worked. Soejono and Morwood were named as 
counterparts representing the two institutions as chief investigators. 
Specific agreements for individual projects, including excavation at 
Liang Bua, were also negotiated. Morwood reported some of the sig- 
nificant ones: “An important provision was that ‘specialist input from 
other Parties and disciplines will be on the basis of invitation after due 
discussion between the Chief Investigators’; also that intellectual prop- 
erty was to be equally shared between the institutions; and that neither 
party could subcontract the benefit of its right under this arrangement 
without the prior approval in writing of the other.” 43 

Sadly, the goodwill between Morwood and Soejono embodied in 
these agreements began to evaporate with the discovery of LBi in August 
2003. The problem was that Soejono wanted the remains of LBi and the 
other Homo floresiensis specimens to be described and interpreted by his 
close friend, Professor Teuku Jacob, who was the head of the Laboratory 
of Bioanthropology and Paleoanthropology at the University of Gadjah 
Mada, in Yogyakarta, Java. Although Jacob was 74 years old at the time, 
he was reputed to be the “king of paleoanthropology” in Indonesia. King 


Once upon n Hobbit / 93 



Figure 12. The researcher Jatmiko, from the Indonesian National Research 
Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS), measures and describes thousands of 
stone tools that were recovered from the digs at Liang Bua. Photographed by 
Djuna Ivereigh/ARKENAS. 


or not, Morwood resisted Soejono’s proposition on the grounds that 
Jacob had been slow to analyze and publish information about fossils 
that had been previously entrusted to his laboratory and had a repu- 
tation for obstructing other researchers’ efforts to do so. As Morwood 
put it, “We had not put in years of planning and months of hard work 
and spent A$ioo,ooo on the Liang Bua excavation, just to give the most 
important findings, resulting publications and control of publication 
venues and schedules to a retired senior researcher not even connected 
with the project .” 44 

Because of the Agreement of Cooperation, Morwood was able to 
prevail, and a plan was worked out with Soejono’s agreement that the 
discoverers would continue to conserve and study the remains with 
help from Peter Brown, a hominin specialist from UNE. Everyone also 
agreed to embargo reports of the discovery and agreed that two papers 


94 / Once upon a Hobbit 


(one on the hominin material, the other on the archaeology) would be 
prepared and submitted to Nature. Amazingly, the team managed to keep 
the discovery secret for over a year, until the day before the papers 
appeared in Nature on October 28, 2004. 

The reaction to the 2004 announcement of Homo floresiensis in Nature 
rivaled the one that had surrounded Dart’s 1925 announcement of Aus- 
tralopithecus africanus m that same journal. As happened with Taung, the 
discovery made world headlines. Morwood recalled: 

When the discovery was announced all hell broke loose, as the world’s media 
emailed and phoned our offices and homes — about 200 enquiries a day for 
the first week, with Peter [Brown] doing 100 interviews in the first three days. 
The interest was overwhelming: we featured on about 98,000 websites and 
were headlined in about 7000 newspapers including the Guardian, Sydney 
Morning Herald, Nepali Times, New Zealand Herald, [and] New York Times. . . . 
The story seems to have made it into every major newspaper around the 
world, into most popular news magazines, including in Australia The Bulletin, 
Tune, Newsweek and The Financial Review, and was reported as news on most 
TV channels and science programs. “It’s always a delight to welcome a new 
member to the family” was the introduction to the story by one newsreader, 
while Deborah Smith of The Sydney Morning Herald surmised that, “The find 
has also put us firmly on the same evolutionary footing as other creatures on 
Earth, something that would have pleased Darwin.” 45 

Although Darwin might have been pleased, Soejono and Jacob were 
not. To Morwood’s dismay, less than a week after the publication of the 
Nature articles, Soejono turned LBi’s skull, femur, and mandible over to 
Jacob, along with an important new mandible that had not yet been fully 
studied. Jacob took the remains to his laboratory in Yogyakarta. Even 
though Morwood and the discoverers of LBi had strongly opposed his 
decision, Soejono retroactively arranged permission from ARKENAS 
for the transfer, as well as permission for the rest of the Homo floresiensis 
remains to be turned over to Jacob on December 1, 2004, for one month. 
That deadline would be extended twice, however, before the bones were 
actually returned, about three months later. 


Once upon a Hobbit / 9 s' 


Because Morwood and his colleagues had not yet completed their 
descriptions of Homo floresiensis, turning the remains over to someone 
who was not part of the discovery team violated the norms for conduct- 
ing scientific research in much of the world, including Australia and the 
United States. The science writer and paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman 
has recently pointed out to me, however, that the cultural values for 
doing science are markedly different in Indonesia, where there is a per- 
vasive feeling that one must pay respect to elders. This helps explain 
why analyzing the remains without taking them to Jacob was perceived 
as culturally insulting and offensive (discussed below), and it sheds light 
on Soejono’s insistence on arranging for Jacob to study the specimens 
over the objections of Morwood and others. In any event, the transfer 
of the hobbit specimens to Jacob’s laboratory marked the beginning of 
a battle between old guards and relatively young turks, eerily echoing 
Dart’s experience with the Piltdown gang. 

Clearly, Soejono and Jacob accepted the traditional idea that the elders 
of Indonesian paleoanthropology were entitled to take over, or even 
hoard, new hominin discoveries. 46 The sense of entitlement based on 
seniority is underscored by a report in the Guardian: “He [Jacob] claims 
that behind the intense media attention last October were ill-equipped, 
hurried young academics whose work was not properly scrutinized.” 47 
In what some have interpreted as misguided nationalism, Jacob was 
especially hard on the Australian coauthors of the Nature papers. Thus, 
according to the Guardian Jacob claimed that “the Australian team were 
‘scientific terrorists’ forcing ideas on people, that it was unethical for 
them to have made the announcement without the Indonesians being 
invited, and that they were not experienced enough. ‘I don’t think the 
Australians have the expertise. They were very narrow. They have a 
tunnel vision and were not equipped in this area.’” 48 

Most of the extremely fragile hobbit remains that Jacob had bor- 
rowed were returned to the Indonesian National Research Centre on 
February 23, 2005. 49 Sadly, some of the most important bones arrived 
badly damaged. 50 The left side of the pelvis was smashed to bits, and the 


96 / Once upon a Hobbit 


unpublished mandible had been broken in half and glued back together 
in a misaligned way that caused bone loss. Casting molds had been 
made of LBi’s skull and jaw using improper methods. As a result, the 
latex used in the process had ripped away important parts of the bone. 
LBi’s left cheekbone and two of her teeth had been broken off and glued 
back. Morwood observed, “It was totally irresponsible, destructive in 
the extreme and the antithesis of ethical scientific investigation — sick- 
ening, in fact. The damage was irreparable. Moulds had been made, and 
had continued to be made, regardless of consequences.” 51 

This situation prompted an outcry from scientists around the world, 
which caused embarrassment and consternation among Soejono, Jacob, 
and their colleagues. Thereafter, a request was made by Soejono to Indo- 
nesia’s deputy minister for Archaeology and History to reassess “all 
archaeology cooperations with foreign researchers.” As a consequence, 
Morwood and his colleagues were unable to obtain a permit in 2005 
to continue excavating at Liang Bua. 52 As noted in Nature, “Disputes 
over palaeoanthropology dig sites are not uncommon — there has been 
considerable squabbling over the control of hominid sites in Africa. But 
it is unprecedented to close down such a spectacular site.” 53 Happily, 
archaeologists saw a reopening of Liang Bua for research in 2007. 

Another positive event that occurred in July 2007 was the Interna- 
tional Seminar on Southeast Asian Paleoanthropology, which was held 
in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Yogyakarta and sponsored by Jacob and 
his colleagues, with 150 scholars in attendance. 54 Jacob took it all in with 
a twinkle in his eye, and I am glad that I had the chance to meet him 
before he died, only three months later. After the seminar adjourned, 
we were treated to excursions to the famous Sangiran Homo erectus site 
on Java and to Liang Bua on Flores (figure 13). 

The complicated paleopolitics that surrounded the discovery of Homo 
floresiensis was not just about who should be entitled to analyze the 
remains. It also included acrimonious debate about whether or not LBi 
really represented a new hominin species that was contemporaneous 
with Homo sapiens from other parts of the world. One reason for this 


Once upon a Hobbit / 97 



Figure 13. Scooter and I were thrilled to meet some of our Indonesian collab- 
orators when we visited Liang Bua during the summer of 2007. Left to right: 
Dean Falk, Rokhus Due Awe, E. Wahyu Saptomo, Thomas Sutikna, Charles 
“Scooter” Llildebolt. Photograph by Louise Hildebolt. 

debate was that assigning LBi to a new species contradicted a school of 
thought, dubbed “multiregional evolution,” which held that Homo sapiens 
evolved simultaneously on different continents and was the only species 
of hominin on the planet at the time LBi was alive. 55 Maciej Henneberg, 
of the University of Adelaide, and Alan Thorne, from the Australian 
National University, were among the first multiregionalists to voice 
skepticism about the attribution of LBi to a new human species. In a 
November 2004 non-peer-reviewed commentary in the online journal 
Before Farming, they suggested that the tools found at Liang Bua were 
made by Homo sapiens. They believed that, rather than representing a 
new species, LBi was simply a small, pathological human being who 
had suffered from a growth disorder called microcephaly, which causes 
“short individuals with normal-sized faces and very small braincases.” 56 



98 / Once upon a Hobbit 


They also claimed that 15 measurements from LBi’s skull closely resem- 
ble comparable ones from a microcephalic skull of a young adult male 
who had lived around 4,000 years ago on the island of Crete, “indicating 
that they may [have] come from the same population.” 57 

Henneberg and Thorne’s claim that LBi was nothing more than a 
pathological Homo sapiens drew a strong response from Peter Brown and 
Mike Morwood: “Leaving aside the consistent evidence we have for at 
least seven individuals with similar body, dental and facial proportions 
from Liang Bua, what are the chances that this is some form of modern 
human? The answer is none.” 58 Others, including Jacob, soon jumped 
on the “LBi was a microcephalic” bandwagon, 59 and two months after 
the exchange in Before Farming, Thorne showed that he could give as 
good as he could get: “Paleoanthropology has lost its way and people 
are desperate for new species. People are more aggressive. If, as Jacob 
thinks, it’s a case of microcephaly, there are a lot of people in my field 
who cannot recognize a village idiot when they see one.” 60 

Although we did not know it when my team began working on LBi’s 
endocast, we were destined to become quite familiar with microceph- 
aly. As I’ll describe in chapter 7, we would also find ourselves brushing 
up on cretinism and a growth disorder called Laron syndrome, both 
of which were eventually proposed as afflictions that had caused the 
unusual appearance of Hobbit and her kind. Just as some scientists had 
interpreted Taung as representing an aberrant ape rather than a new 
hominin species, a minority of vocal scientists were now coalescing in 
an extensive effort to relegate Hobbit to Homo sapiens as a sick (with 
something or other) specimen. Our team’s journey into clinical medi- 
cine, as you will see, was fascinating and even involved a bit of intrigue. 

It is interesting to contemplate the possible motives behind the un- 
substantiated claims that newly discovered type specimens were aber- 
rant apes or pathological humans rather than previously unrecognized 
species. After all, this happened with the initial discoveries of Pithecan- 
thropus, Neanderthals, Australopithecus, and now Homo floresiensis. In addi- 
tion to “age-old jealousies, ideology and the quest for personal power,” 61 


Once upon a Hobbit / 99 


turf guarding often seemed to motivate the negative receptions to new 
hominin discoveries. Recall, for example, that Raymond Dart’s difficul- 
ties with the Piltdown gang were related to turf guarding by the Brit- 
ish scientific establishment in the face of a young Australian upstart (a 
former colleague of theirs, no less) who had the nerve to find a fossil 
in far-off South Africa that challenged their rigid views about human 
evolution. Similar turf guarding may have contributed to the outcries 
about Homo floresiensis, which once again swirled around an independent- 
minded Australian scientist — Mike Morwood. But turf guarding has 
not been confined to scientists. As we saw in earlier discussions about 
the announcement of Australopithecus africanus and the Scopes monkey 
trial, which occurred a mere five months later, this is an activity at which 
creationists also excel. 

REACTION FROM RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS 

It did not take long for fundamentalist Christians to comment on Homo 
floresiensis. On the day the discovery was published in Nature, Australian 
Carl Wieland expressed his opinion that the hobbit remains (as well 
as those of Neanderthals and Homo erectus) represented humans who 
had descended from Adam as described in Genesis and then diversified 
in different environments . 62 Wieland accepted the biblical account of 
creation and its short time-scale for the earth’s history, so he was recep- 
tive to the suggestions of some scientists (such as Jacob) that LBi was 
more recent than her discoverers believed and that she may have been 
a dwarfed descendant of Homo erectus . 61 

Wieland did not rule out the microcephalic hypothesis, however: 
“Whether the tiny people of Flores were indeed microcephalic modern 
types, or whether they represent a pygmy version of so-called Homo 
erectus, the point is really the same. Namely, that there is no reason not to 
classify them all — the Flores inhabitants as well as H. erectus — as Homo 
sapiens — part of the range of variation found within a single species .” 64 
To support his assertion, Wieland cited evolutionary anthropologists 


ioo / Once upon a Hobbit 


Alan Thorne and Milford Wolpoff, who have long held that Homo erectus 
should be regarded as an earlier representative of Homo sapiens , and, in 
an interpretation that would undoubtedly chagrin Thorne and Wolpoff, 
claimed that so much variation in one species “certainly undermines 
the dogmatism with which evolutionists have claimed that these sorts 
of ‘apemen’ demonstrate our nonhuman ancestry.” 65 

It is not surprising that a young-Earth creationist such as Wieland 
rejected the interpretation that Hobbit represents a new human species, 
despite acknowledging that “the discovery is exciting and interesting.” 
“Evolutionists,” he added, “are surprised and astonished by it. However, 
they will doubtless find ways to fit it into their ever-flexible evolutionary 
framework, even using it to reinforce evolutionary notions. The Flores 
discovery fits very nicely into a biblical view of history.” 66 (Recall from 
chapter 3 that another young-Earth creationist, Russell Grigg, considered 
Taung and the other australopithecines to be apes that were created by 
God on the sixth day of Creation Week, eventually becoming extinct.) 67 

But not all creationists literally accept the Genesis account of an 
Earth that is less than 10,000 years old or believe that the creation “days” 
were each only 24 hours long. Instead, old-Earth, or “progressive,” cre- 
ationists attempt to reconcile biblical accounts, including the creation 
of humans as unique beings made in God’s image, with a temporal 
framework that accepts the scientific evidence for the Earth’s being bil- 
lions of years old. Old-Earth creationists, such as Fazale Rana, of the 
Reasons to Believe ministry, therefore have no problem accepting the 
dates published for the hobbit remains (95,000-17,000 years ago); nor do 
they believe that LBi was a microcephalic Homo sapiens. However, they 
reject the notion that Homo floresiensis or other hominids were humans, 
because they “were not spiritual beings made in God’s image.” 68 Instead, 
they consider “these hominids in the same vein as the great apes — non- 
human creatures made by God (before He created human beings) that 
later became extinct.” 69 

Morwood worried, and not without some justification, that the con- 
troversy among scientists about the validity of Homo floresiensis was “grist 


Once upon a Hobbit / 


roi 


for the mill” for fundamentalist Islamic as well as Christian voices . 70 
According to a prominent author and follower of Islam, Harun Yahya, 
the Flores remains represent nothing more than an ancient human race. 
Yahya believes that evolution is a myth perpetuated by scientists and 
that human beings originated in “the Creator of All . . . [as] revealed in 
the Qur’an.” Referring to the controversy surrounding LBi, he notes: 

Evolutionists’ own statements reflect the heavy blow the fossil in question 
has dealt to the illusory scenario of human evolution. Furthermore, the depic- 
tion of these fossils as evidence for evolution in the media shows once again 
that Darwinism is a belief system kept blindly alive in the face of the facts, 
since evolutionists still refuse to abandon their theory in the face of the fossil 
findings that have recently totally demolished the myths they recounted so 
tirelessly for so many years. Evolutionists . . . attempt to keep the myth of 
evolution they support so blindly alive behind a scientific mask . 71 

These are just a few examples of the many reactions of religious fun- 
damentalists to the discovery of Homo floresiensis, but they capture their 
essence. One school of thought accepts the discoverers’ interpretation 
that LBi was human but asserts that she belonged to Homo sapiens instead 
of a new species (H. floresiensis ) — either as an individual that had a 
pathology or as a dwarfed descendant from earlier humans who, them- 
selves, originated from a deliberate act of a divine Creator. Progressive 
fundamentalists, on the other hand, accept the discoverers’ contention 
that LBi was a previously unrecognized hominin species rather than 
Homo sapiens but think she was an apelike creature that predated the 
divine creation of humans. At the heart ofboth schools is the conviction 
that humans are different from other animals and that they originated 
by a supernatural event. 

One of the things that strikes me about the conservative religious 
response to Homo floresiensis is that the spokespersons have carefully read 
the scientific literature — albeit selectively — in order to formulate their 
positions. As Morwood observed, the fact that scientists are embroiled 
in controversy over the basic interpretation of the Flores bones provides 
fodder for fundamentalists’ arguments. 


io2 / Once upon a Hobbit 


Recalling that Dart received scathing you’re-going-to-burn-in-hell 
letters from religious conservatives, I asked Morwood if he had had the 
same experience. To my surprise, he had not. Apparently, fundamental- 
ists are more sophisticated and better organized today than they were in 
the 1920s (the Scopes trial aside). Nevertheless, the essence of their under- 
lying philosophy remains the same — namely, an adamant rejection of the 
theory that humans evolved from apelike stock by natural selection. 

The extreme passion evident in the religious and scientific contro- 
versies surrounding the discovery of Homo floresiensis begs explanation. 
Although pre-Darwinian zoologists studied and classified the diver- 
sity of life, they lacked an evolutionary perspective. 72 After Darwin, 
scholars added a dynamic aspect to earlier classification systems by 
viewing evolution as progressing from simple to complex forms of life 
that eventually culminated with humans. Although contemporary evo- 
lutionists warn against such linear thinking, it maintained a foothold in 
paleoanthropology in the classic idea that the human lineage evolved in 
a linear sequence, with one species replacing another through time — 
ultimately ending with Homo sapiens. Until Homo floresiensis was discov- 
ered, it was thought that Homo sapiens was the only species of hominin 
who lived on this planet 18,000 years ago. The fossil record strongly 
suggests, however, that Homo ereetus, Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis, and 
Homo sapiens overlapped fairly recently, albeit in different locations. 
As the science writer and Nature editor Henry Gee has pointed out, 
“Human evolution is like a bush, not a ladder.” 73 Gee (like others) also 
raises the fascinating, if science-fictionish, possibility that hobbitlike 
species might still exist in remote parts of the world: “If it turns out that 
the diversity of human beings was always high, remained high until 
very recently and might not be entirely extinguished, we are entitled 
to question the security of some of our deepest beliefs. Will the real 
image of God please stand up?” 74 

On the heels of the unveiling of Homo floresiensis, journalist Christo- 
pher Howse chimed a similar note in his article “Do Little People Go 
to Heaven?”: “Far more interesting this week ... is what we should make 


Once upon a Hobbit / 103 


of these Floresians’ spiritual life.” Assuming that hobbits were as intel- 
ligent and rational as suggested in the Nature announcement, Howse 
wondered if they had immortal souls, because “the assumption is that 
God does not deny any human an immortal soul.” 75 Such speculation 
raised the specter of the so-called mind-body problem that was articu- 
lated over three and a half centuries ago by Rene Descartes when he 
identified consciousness and self-awareness as separate from the physi- 
cal brain. Even today, many people “naturally believe in the Ghost in 
the Machine: that we have bodies made of matter and spirits made of an 
ethereal something.” 76 For the scientists who were arguing that Flobbit 
was not a new species, the problem was not her soul, however. It was 
her tiny brain. Flow could a hominin with a tiny ape-sized brain be so 
intelligent? This is where my team’s research would come in. 

THE MAGIC OF MALLINCKRODT 

When David Flamlin told me he wanted me to make a latex endocast 
from a model of LBi’s skull for his National Geographic film, I had 
reservations about this being our sole source of information about her 
brain. As described in chapter 2, an endocast reproduces whatever im- 
pressions the brain happened to imprint on the inner walls of the brain- 
case during an individual’s lifetime. With good luck, it may show cere- 
bral convolutions, blood vessels, and even sutures of the skull, as was 
the case for Taung (figure 7). With bad luck (or a skull from a very 
young or very old individual), an endocast reveals little more than the 
general shape of the brain and some superficial blood vessels. 

Everything would depend on the clarity of the impressions the brain 
had left stamped within LBi’s skull. The model that David intended to 
send was a transparent resin replica of the skull that revealed not only 
its outer surface but also features within the substance of its bones. 77 
Although such a replica would provide valuable information, I worried 
that a latex endocast made from its interior would be blurrier than an 
endocast from LBi’s actual braincase, because some anatomical detail is 


104 / Once upon a Hobbit 


lost with each successive casting. An endocast from a cast of the cranium 
was, thus, likely to be less informative than one made from the actual 
braincase. Unfortunately, LBi’s braincase (which had been described as 
having the texture of wet blotting paper when it was discovered) was 
too fragile to cast directly. 

Despite my eagerness to see what, if anything, would be revealed by 
an endocast from a replica of LBi’s skull, I suggested that we also obtain 
a “virtual endocast” from the data that had been collected from LBi in a 
medical computed tomography (CT) scanner in Jakarta Selatan, Indo- 
nesia (before the specimen was removed to Jacob’s laboratory, where 
it was damaged). I knew that the scanner’s X-ray source and array of 
detectors had collected slices of data that had been compiled to recon- 
struct LBi’s skull in three dimensions and to visualize it on a computer 
screen. Once we had a copy of LBi’s virtual skull, we would be able to 
flood-fill its braincase electronically to create a virtual endocast. 

Although they haven’t been around that long, virtual endocasts are 
clearly the way to go when studying brain evolution from prehistoric 
skulls. For one thing, these endocasts are created without ever touching 
the actual skull (except to place it on the scanner), whereas preparing 
latex endocasts is an invasive procedure that risks damaging specimens. 
Virtual endocasts also reproduce exquisite details of the cerebral cor- 
tex compared with the details collected through latex endocasts made 
directly from skulls, let alone second-generation endocasts made from 
replicas of skulls . 78 Another advantage of virtual endocasts is that they 
can be rotated, partitioned, and measured electronically, which gives 
more precise information than one can collect by measuring solid endo- 
casts with old-fashioned hand-held calipers. With a virtual endocast, 
missing parts are also easier to reconstruct, by electronically transfer- 
ring a mirror-image of a part that is present on one side to the other, 
which is extremely challenging to do by hand. One advantage of solid 
endocasts, however, is that they are easier to view in one fell swoop — 
no electricity needed. Fortunately, hard copies can be made of virtual 


Once upon a Hobbit / 105 


endocasts, just as they can of virtual skulls. I suggested to David that the 
film crew needed to go to St. Louis. 

Over the years, I have collaborated on many projects with the biolog- 
ical anthropologist Charles “Scooter” Hildebolt, which I wrote about in 
my book Braindance. Much of our work has been done with Scooter’s col- 
leagues in the Electronic Radiology (ER) Laboratory at the Mallinck- 
rodt Institute of Radiology, which is part of Washington University 
School of Medicine, in St. Louis. The ER Laboratory is directed by Fred 
Prior, who, in addition to being a stellar neuroscientist, has a master’s 
degree in anthropology. Add to the mix Kirk Smith, a crackerjack engi- 
neer who can do magic with computed tomographic data, and we had 
a team that was up to the task (and the huge honor) of processing and 
analyzing a virtual endocast from Hobbit and comparing it with virtual 
endocasts from apes and other hominins. But would David Hamlin (and 
National Geographic Television) go for it? That, said David, depended 
entirely on whether Mike Morwood approved of the idea. 

I e-mailed Mike in November 2004 and told him that my colleagues 
at Mallinckrodt and I would be able to perform sophisticated imag- 
ing and morphological studies on a virtual endocast of LBi if we could 
obtain the necessary CT data from Jakarta. I also said that, in addition 
to being in the National Geographic film, we would be tremendously 
excited to do a scientific study with him and his colleagues that com- 
pared the virtual endocasts of LBi, apes, and other hominins. After he 
consulted with the other members of his research team, Mike e-mailed 
back that we could use the CT scan data and that they would be happy 
to collaborate on the proposed research and to have the work filmed 
by National Geographic. He outlined reasonable conditions regarding 
copyright of the CT scan data, authorship (e.g., we would submit to 
high-profile journals), and press releases. My colleagues at Mallinckrodt 
and I were thrilled and readily agreed to all of the conditions (figure 14). 
The analysis of LBi’s endocast was going to be done right! 

But it wasn’t going to be cheap. Doing research on virtual endocasts 


io6 / Once upon a Hobbit 



Figure 14. In Fred’s office at the Electronic Radiology Laboratory at Mallinck- 
rodt. Left to right: standing, Fred Prior, Kirk Smith; seated, Charles Hildebolt, 
Dean Falk. Photograph courtesy of Parinaz Massoumzadeh. 

is an expensive proposition. At David Hamlin’s urging I applied for and 
received a grant from the National Geographic Society to help pay for 
our project. Meanwhile, Morwood arranged for the 3D-CT image of 
LBi’s skull to be sent to St. Louis for producing a virtual endocast, and 
David mailed a replica of the skull that had been made from the same 
virtual data to Tallahassee so that I could prepare a latex endocast from 
it. Later, we would compare the latex and virtual endocasts. 

A pretty, pink, translucent copy of LBi’s skull arrived in Tallahassee 
on November 23. By the 26th I had produced the first (and better) of two 
latex endocasts that I would make from its interior. I was very disap- 
pointed, however, because the reproduction of the all-telling bumps 



Once upon a Hobbit / 107 


and grooves (gyri and sulci, respectively) of the cerebral cortex was 
poor. But then, what did one expect from a cast of a cast? 

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Kirk with his magic machines was exam- 
ining the data for LBi’s virtual skull. He saw that the skull had been 
reconstructed from the raw CT data in Indonesia with an (understand- 
able) eye toward getting the outside right but with little attention to the 
interior of the braincase. Consequently, there were cracks and voids in 
the walls of the braincase. When Kirk flood-filled the skull electroni- 
cally, it produced an endocast that reflected these errors and, further, 
was somewhat squashed at the back end. What he needed were the 
unprocessed CT data from the original scan (which were in slices) so 
that he could carefully align the cracks and fill in the small holes of the 
braincase that had been caused by excavation and by pressures from 
sediments during burial. (LBi was discovered about 19 feet beneath the 
floor of the cave.) 79 Kirk intended to edit the data slice by slice (using 
both manual and highly accurate automated procedures) in order to 
reconstruct a more realistic virtual endocast. 

We requested the unprocessed CT data from Mike, who consulted 
with his team and then had them sent to St. Louis. Time was running 
short. We were scheduled to film on December 9. We wanted David to 
have beautiful images of LBi’s virtual endocast for his film, and produc- 
ing them in such short order was going to be highly labor-intensive for 
poor Kirk. The thought of being part of the National Geographic film 
was, of course, exciting. But what really thrilled us was the prospect of 
analyzing the brain of this new species. So the clock was ticking double- 
time — Kirk needed to hunker down on reconstructing LBi’s virtual 
endocast, and the rest of us had to come up with a plan for the actual 
research that we would begin when I came to St. Louis for the filming. 
As with any research, our study would need to focus on specific ques- 
tions. Fortunately, it was not going to be too difficult to decide what they 
should be, because the announcement of Homo floresiensis had prompted 
scientists everywhere to start scratching their heads. 

What could our study of LBi’s virtual endocast contribute to the dis- 


io8 / Once upon a Hobbit 


cussion? Would Hobbit’s endocast have an overall shape that was similar 
to endocasts from Homo erectus, despite their very different brain sizes? 
Or would its shape resemble that of an endocast from a microcephalic 
human? Alternatively, would the gyri and sulci most resemble those of 
similarly sized endocasts from australopithecines and chimpanzees? Or 
would the form of LBi’s cerebral cortex appear more advanced despite 
its tiny size? And what was going on with Hobbit’s apelike relative brain 
size? If Homo erectus had given rise to Homo floresiensis, then one would 
expect the RBS of the more recent Hobbit to be larger, not smaller, than 
those of its ancestors. Further, powerful scaling laws that govern RBS 
would have made this doubly true, because, in this case, the ancestor 
would have been much larger-bodied than the descendant. Something 
was definitely out of whack when it came to LBi’s brain, and we intended 
to find out what it was. 

When I departed for St. Louis in December 2004, I thought I knew 
what Scooter, Kirk, Fred, and I would find. Because LBi’s brain had 
been as small as a chimpanzee’s or an australopithecine’s, I had a strong 
hunch its virtual endocast was going to look apelike. If that happened, 
would Morwood and his colleagues ever speak to us again? Although 
this thought caused my knees to wobble, I knew that we were going 
to learn a good deal about LBi’s brain and that, in keeping with the 
scientific spirit in which we were invited to collaborate, we would just 
have to “tell it like it is.” 


SIX 


Flo’s Little Brain 


I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words bother me. 

A. A. Milne 


We were keenly aware that LBi’s virtual endocast would give us the first 
clear snapshot of the cerebral cortex of Hobbit (also known as Flo). While 
I was in St. Louis, my Mallinckrodt colleagues and I intended to lay the 
groundwork for future comparative research on LBi’s brain that would be 
carried out with Mike Morwood’s team. An obvious first step was to get 
an initial peek at how LBi’s virtual endocast compared with those from 
chimpanzees, certain other fossil hominins, and humans. This would be 
a highly visual endeavor and therefore perfect for the film. Our anticipa- 
tion was almost palpable! 

Deciding what kinds of virtual endocasts should be compared with 
LBi’s was easy. Because some skeptics had claimed that the Homo floresien- 
sis remains were from microcephalic humans, a virtual endocast would be 
prepared from a cast of a microcephalic Homo sapiens , which we had bor- 
rowed from the American Museum of Natural History . 1 Other colleagues 
had suggested that LBi represents a pygmy Homo sapiens, so we were also 
going to make a virtual endocast from the skull of a female pygmy loaned 
from the same museum . 2 Another virtual endocast would be obtained 
from a skull of a normal Homo sapiens female from the Cleveland Museum 
of Natural History. In addition, we intended to prepare virtual endocasts 
from an adult female Homo erectus and an adult female chimpanzee. 

109 


no / Flo’s Little Brain 



Figure 15. Scooter getting ready to CT-scan specimens for our study. Photo- 
graph by Dean Falk. 


In order to be ready to film on December 9, 2004, we needed to 
CT-scan the specimens — and soon. And that would be just the begin- 
ning. Knowing that our future research would require more virtual 
endocasts from humans, chimpanzees, and early hominins, I packed up 
seven boxes of endocasts and museum-quality casts of hominin skulls 
from my collection in Tallahassee and mailed them (with some trepida- 
tion) to St. Louis at the end of November. Fortunately they all got there. 

Because we had a good deal of scanning, CT processing, and measur- 
ing to do before film day, I made a preliminary trip to Mallinckrodt 
to help with the legwork on December 1 and 2. Scooter had already 
scheduled time for our specimens on the Siemens Sensation 64 clini- 
cal multislice CT scanner at Barnes Jewish Hospital, in St. Louis (see 
figure 15). It took hours to scan the specimens. The resulting three- 
dimensional data were then delivered to Kirk, who would devote the 



Flo’s Little Brain / 


in 



Figure 1 6. Kirk produced a gorgeous virtual endocast from the 3D-CT data 
that were collected from LBi’s skull. The endocast reveals convolutions, blood 
vessels, and sutures of the skull. Courtesy Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute 
of Radiology. 


following week to producing the handful of virtual endocasts that we 
needed for the film. 3 Meanwhile, Kirk and I laboriously collected mea- 
surements from the virtual endocast that he had already produced from 
the CT data from LBi’s skull that Morwood had sent from Indonesia. 
LBi’s 3D virtual endocast turned out to be beautiful (figure 16). It could 
be isolated and displayed on a computer screen, twirled, sliced, diced, 
and precisely measured. Eventually we would compare it with virtual 
endocasts from apes and other hominins, including Homo sapiens. 

I returned to Tallahassee to teach and then flew back to St. Louis 
on December 8 for the filming. What a pleasure it was to finally meet 
energetic and attractive David Hamlin. Scooter and I spent the day 
conferring with him and his cameraman about the logistics of filming 
during the next day. We also set up locations and arranged specimens 



H2 / Flo’s Little Brain 


for the shooting. Meanwhile, Kirk was still processing the virtual endo- 
casts that we needed. We ordered in Chinese food for lunch, and that 
evening Fred and Scooter treated everyone to a fabulous meal at an 
Asian fusion restaurant. 

It was a long day of filming. Scooter, Kirk, Fred, and I had planned 
to get as much research done as possible in between takes and during 
the numerous inevitable delays. David wanted to include footage of 
LBi’s virtual endocast compared with others on a computer screen, and 
Kirk was still working on producing the last ones that morning. Since 
David wanted us to comment on these images, I asked Kirk to print 
large hard copies of the side and top views of the virtual endocasts 
from LBi, the microcephalic human, a female chimpanzee, a female 
Romo erectus, and a modern woman. This he did, delivering them to us 
one by one, slowly but surely. So that we could better compare their 
overall shapes, Kirk had adjusted all of the virtual endocasts to have 
the same volume as LBi’s, which was only 417 cm 3 . For each view, we 
arranged the images side by side on a large table as we received them. 
Figure 17 shows the final arrangement of the right-side views of the 
virtual endocasts. 

We were much too excited to wait for all the images to be in place 
before beginning our comparisons. The image of Hobbit’s virtual endo- 
cast went in the center of the table. Kirk then brought us the image for 
the normal adult woman, which we placed above LBi’s. We all agreed 
that the woman’s endocast was much higher and fuller than LBi’s, espe- 
cially in the back. 

“Who do you want next?” Kirk asked. Scooter requested the micro- 
cephalic, which Kirk brought over and placed to the left of LBi. It looked 
very strange because of its large cerebellum, which stuck out below and 
at the back of the brain, a configuration that we knew from the clini- 
cal literature was typical of microcephalic brains. The microcephalic’s 
temporal lobes also appeared stubby, and the bottom of its frontal lobe 
fiat compared with those of the woman and LBi. 

I couldn’t wait any longer to test my hunch that LBi’s endocast would 


Flo’s Little Brain / 113 


woman 



Figure 17. Virtual endocasts viewed from their right sides. The frontal lobes 
face to the right; the back end of the brains (occipital lobes) are to the left. 
The endocasts have all been made the same volume electronically so that the 
shapes are easier to compare visually. LBi’s endocast looks most similar to 
that from H. erectus and differs most from the endocast of the microcephalic. 
Courtesy Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. 


most resemble that of a chimpanzee. “Bring us the chimp, Kirk.” While 
he was printing the image, Scooter and I had an uneasy moment in 
which we worried about what Morwood might say if LBi’s virtual 
endocast turned out to look completely chimplike. Kirk brought it out 
and placed it below LBi’s. Oh-oh. The chimpanzee’s virtual endocast 
certainly looked more like LBi’s than either the woman’s or the micro- 
cephalic’s did. 

“Got one more for you,” Kirk said, bringing us the last image, which 
was from the female Homo erectus skull. He placed it to the right of LBi. 


ii4 / Flo’s Little Brain 


“Whooa,” said Scooter. “That puppy looks more like LBi’s than any 
of the others!” He was right, as you can see from figure 17. Like the Homo 
erectus woman, LBi’s virtual endocast was relatively long and low and 
had a bit of a dent at the top near the back. Interestingly, this distinctive 
shape was typical for classic Homo erectus endocasts from China and Java. 
We made similar comparisons of the virtual endocasts, as viewed from 
the front, back, top, bottom, and the left side. The results were always 
the same. LBi’s virtual endocast most resembled that of the female Homo 
erectus , and it looked least like that of the microcephalic Homo sapiens. 

David seemed pleased. Some of the comparisons that we made and 
our initial thoughts about them made the cut in David’s NGS film, Tiny 
Humans: The Hobbits of Flores , + We were incredibly excited by our initial 
observations, although we knew a mountain of work was ahead of us in 
analyzing the virtual endocasts scientifically and preparing a paper with 
Morwood’s team. Here is the entry from my diary for December 9, 2004: 

Scooter and I were first in to work. Filmed with David all day (’til 10 pm!). 
David Hamlin is a true mensch. He made us do a gazillion retakes. . . . 
Meanwhile, talking with Fred Prior about the future. I am happy with the 
filming — think we walked the fine line. Kirk scaled all of our images to 
Hobbit’s size — Who does she look like? Homo erectus — that's who! But with 
a difference — area ro. Yippee Skippee. P.S. She ain’t a microcephalic! [The 
reference to area 10 is to a remarkable feature in LBi’s frontal lobe that is 
discussed below.] 

I stayed in St. Louis the next day to help plan our research on LBi’s 
brain. When I picked up voice mail from Tallahassee, there was a mes- 
sage from Michael Balter, who is a terrific science writer and journal- 
ist for Science magazine ( Natures American rival). Balter had phoned to 
discuss some research he was writing about. Because I trusted him and 
was so excited about LBi’s virtual endocast, I phoned him back, swore 
him to secrecy, and spilled. He suggested that we consider submitting a 
report to Science , and I e-mailed Morwood that day to see if he approved 
of the idea and to give him information about how the filming had gone. 
Morwood responded that he and his collaborators would be happy to 


Flo’s Little Brain / 115 


publish a report with us in Science. There was just one fly in the oint- 
ment. Like Nature , Science embargoes papers that it has accepted, so we 
would have to work quickly to get a paper submitted before David’s 
film appeared on national television in March. After that, our research 
would be “old news,” which Science would be unlikely to publish. 

The clock was ticking. After I went home, we burned up the tele- 
phone wires between Tallahassee and St. Louis. Morwood and I also 
discussed our unfolding research on the telephone (although I had a bit 
of difficulty deciphering his charming but thick Australian accent — 
maybe he thought the same thing about my American one). I spent the 
last four days of 2004 back in St. Louis, working on the Hobbit project. 
Kirk and I did a lot of measuring at the computer screen, and Scooter 
designed our statistical procedures and analyzed the data as we col- 
lected them. When we got stuck on something, we called in Fred, who 
usually knew the answer or what to do to find it. 

We were highly motivated to complete our initial analyses and to 
write the first draft of a paper to send to Morwood for his team’s input. 
The goal was to submit the finalized paper to Science for peer review 
as soon as possible so that it had a chance of appearing on or before 
March 13, the date that David’s film would air in the United States. We 
all had day jobs, so the intense work was exhausting. As noted in the 
January 4, 2005, entry in my diary: 

In by 9 to work on the endocast illustration of LBi & other stuff pertain- 
ing to the paper. Very little sleep. Home 3-ish for a 1 hour nap, then up 
and working again ’til almost midnight. Scooter’s doing the same thing. 
But it’s getting there. What a monumental effort. Just have the concluding 
paragraph and abstract to write. Plus dealing with all the figures, tables, and 
supporting online material. I am so-o-o tired. 

The first version of the paper went to Mike for his team’s revisions 
and additions, which we received from him on January 11. One good 
thing about submitting papers to Science (and Nature) is that they are 
reviewed extremely rapidly. A mere 20 days after we submitted it, our 


ri6 / Flo's Little Brain 


paper was accepted, pending revisions, and the final revised paper 
was accepted on February n. Even better, Science intended to publish a 
preliminary version of the paper online in Science Express on March 3, 
which was 10 days before the NGS film would appear. The paper, “The 
Brain of LBi, Homo floresiensis” would have ten authors from Australia, 
Indonesia, and the United States. 5 We had no idea of the controversy it 
was about to generate. 


hobbit’s brain 

Our in-depth research supported our initial observations about LBi’s 
endocast — and more. In addition to measurements of the specimens 
shown above in figure 17, we collected measurements from endocasts 
of seven chimpanzees, seven humans, and four additional Homo erectus 
specimens from China and Java. We used the measurements to generate 
six ratios (such as height/length) that together captured information 
about overall brain shape, which Scooter then analyzed statistically. 
Our results confirmed that LBi’s endocast resembled those from Homo 
erectus, in each anatomical view. For example, unlike all the others, the 
endocasts from LBi and Homo erectus appeared wider on the bottom than 
on the top when seen from either the back or the front. Things were 
looking good for the dwarfed— Homo erectus hypothesis. 

Or were they? In several ways, LBi’s endocast did not look like those 
of Homo erectus, or any of the other specimens for that matter. Instead, 
it had a surprisingly advanced shape for such a small brain. Similar to 
those of humans, LBi’s occipital lobes protruded posteriorly, causing 
the back end of the cerebral cortex to project noticeably farther than the 
cerebellum, which was tucked forward underneath the occipital (visual) 
cortex (arrow 1, figure 18). This occipital protrusion has traditionally 
been attributed to posterior displacement of the visual cortex by an 
expansion of the neighboring association cortex, which integrates infor- 
mation from seeing, hearing, touch, movement, and memory. 6 Although 
this rearrangement of cortex has long been thought to be associated 


Flo’s Little Brain / 117 


A B 



Figure 18. The virtual endocast of LBi from the (A) right side, (B) back, 

(C) front, and (D) top. Arrows 1-7 represent advanced features that are dis- 
cussed in the book: (1) protruding occipital lobe; (2) posteriorly located lunate 
sulcus (but see discussion); (3) temporal lobe expanded at back; (4) form 
of lateral prefrontal cortex, which lacks an apelike fronto-orbital sulcus; 

(5) shape of anterior prefrontal cortex; (6) expanded convolutions at front of 
brain; (7) expanded bottom of frontal lobe. Created by Kirk Smith, Mallinck- 
rodt Institute of Radiology; reproduced from Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “LBi’s 
virtual endocast, microcephaly,” 2009. 


with a displaced, posteriorly located lunate sulcus (which courses near 
the front edge of the visual cortex in apes), recent research by John 
Allen, of the University of Southern California, and his colleagues sug- 
gests that this might not have been the case . 7 Instead, lunate sulci may 
simply have disappeared during hominin evolution as brains enlarged 
and their connections became internally reorganized. s If so, this is a 
radical departure from the notion of a posteriorly displaced lunate sul- 


ii8 / Flo’s Little Brain 


cus, which has held sway in the literature for over a century. Further, 
the identity of the small feature on the left side of LBi’s virtual endocast 
that we initially recognized as a lunate sulcus in a posterior humanlike 
position (arrow 2) may simply have been a small crescent-shaped sulcus 
on the brain’s surface that lacked the other attributes of lunate sulci at 
deeper levels, as is the case for the small percentage of human brains 
that superficially appear to have lunate sulci. 9 

In any event, no signs of a lunate sulcus in a forward apelike posi- 
tion appeared on LBi’s virtual endocast, contrary to the expectations 
for a similarly sized ape brain. Although the humanlike projection of 
LBi’s occipital lobes was an advanced trait, this region was not as full or 
protuberant as that of the much larger-brained Homo erectus{ figure 17). A 
likely functional interpretation is that LBi’s expanded posterior associa- 
tion cortex was related to an increased ability to synthesize information 
from multiple senses. Indeed, this interpretation was offered over a cen- 
tury ago by Elliot Smith when he speculated about the enlargement of 
the posterior association cortex during hominin evolution. He further 
suggested that this region enlarged in conjunction with the evolution of 
both bipedalism and bigger brains. I think Elliot Smith might have been 
as surprised as I was to see protruding occipital lobes and the lack of an 
apelike lunate sulcus in a brain as small as Hobbit’s. 

In addition to being diminutive, Hobbit’s endocast was extremely 
wide because of expansion at the back of its temporal lobes (arrow 3 
in figure 18). This is interesting, because the temporal lobes of human 
brains are relatively expanded compared with the other lobes, although 
they do not appear to be nearly as relatively wide as LBi’s. 10 (Until 
recently, the overall size of the human frontal lobe was also thought to 
be relatively enlarged, but thanks to research by Katerina Semendeferi 
and others, this is no longer believed true.) 11 Although interpreting the 
expansion at the back end of LBi’s temporal lobes from a functional 
point of view is difficult, this region is generally known to be associated 
with the recognition of objects and faces in people and other primates. 12 
As discussed in chapter 5, also fascinating is the speculation of the cog- 


Flo’s Little Brain / 119 


nitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene that this part of the brain may 
have been important in preliterate hunters and gatherers for “reading” 
components of the natural world, such as animal tracks. 13 It was clear to 
us that the wide temporal lobes of Hobbit were a feature that was evolu- 
tionarily advanced toward the human condition, which was unexpected 
(even unprecedented) in such a small brain. And hobbits were hunters 
and gatherers. 

Even more intriguing were the frontal lobes of LBi. For one thing, 
they lacked the short fronto-orbital (fo) sulcus, which incises the edges 
and courses underneath the frontal lobes in similarly sized ape brains 
(near arrow 4, figure 18). As explained in chapter 4, absence of fo is con- 
sidered an advanced trait, because this sulcus became buried within 
hominin brains as their frontal lobes enlarged and became more convo- 
luted over time. The general topography and orientation of the prefron- 
tal cortex near arrow 4 on LBi’s virtual endocast nonetheless appeared 
similar to that of humans, although my colleagues from Mallinckrodt 
and I were unable to identify specific sulci in this region that are associ- 
ated with Broca’s speech area in the left hemisphere of humans, because 
the morphology was not clear. The language capability of hobbits 
remains an open question, which we hope to address with the discov- 
ery of additional skulls that reveal more morphology. Like language, 
right- and left-handedness are advanced human characteristics that are 
associated with asymmetrical brains. It is worth noting, then, that LBi’s 
endocast appears lopsided when viewed from above (figure 18D), in a 
manner that is known to be statistically associated with left-handedness 
in living people, particularly females. 14 

When seen from above, the most anterior part of LBi’s endocast has a 
humanlike squared-off shape at the “corners” of the right and left fron- 
tal lobes (arrows 5, figure 18D), and two unusually large convolutions 
straddle the midline (arrows 6). Together, these features give the front 
end of Hobbit’s endocast an almost ruffled appearance. The bottom 
(orbital) surfaces of Hobbit’s frontal lobes are also relatively swollen 
(arrow 7, figure 18A). In living primates, this last region receives sensory 


i2o / Flo’s Little Brain 


information related to vision, smell, and taste and contributes to the 
regulation of social behavior. Interestingly, damage to it impairs our 
ability to understand vocal and facial emotional expressions. 15 One can 
only wonder if this would also have been true for hobbits. 

LBi’s biggest surprise was the two whopping convolutions noted 
above (arrows 6, figure 18 C and D), which can be seen right above her 
nose in Kirk’s reconstruction (figure 16). This region (along with the 
nearby squared-off corners) is part of Brodmann’s area io (BA io), or 
the frontopolar cortex. Different parts of the brain are distinguished 
by their arrangements of cells at a microscopic level. In classical neuro- 
anatomy, these areas were assigned numbers by Korbinian Brodmann 
(1868—1918) in the order in which he studied them. For example, Broca’s 
speech area in humans is composed of Brodmann’s areas 44 and 45 
in the left hemisphere. The size of BA 10 in hominins following their 
evolutionary split from chimpanzees has outpaced the expansion of 
other parts of the frontal lobe, and it is now twice as large in relative 
terms as the same region in great apes. 16 It may, in fact, have the largest 
volume of any region in the human frontal lobes. The neurons in BA 
10 of humans are more widely spaced and have more complex connec- 
tions compared with those in BA 10 of apes. 17 BA 10 of humans is not 
manifested in separate convolutions, like Hobbit’s, however, perhaps 
because the human brain is big enough to accommodate most of this 
region without forming extra bulges. 18 

BA 10 appears at microscopic levels in brains of nonhuman primates 
but is not so large that it contains visible convolutions like the two in 
Hobbit. Conspicuous convolutions in particular parts of animals’ brains 
often indicate that the functions that they serve are especially impor- 
tant for their lifestyles. For example, some species of New World mon- 
keys have prehensile tails that act as highly skilled fifth limbs, and their 
brains (and endocasts) have extra convolutions in the areas that sense 
and control their tails, convolutions that other monkeys lack. Although 
some apes’ and early hominins’ endocasts that are similar in size to 
Hobbit’s have whispers of these two convolutions in their frontopolar 


Flo’s Little Brain / 


121 


regions, they are not nearly as well developed as hers. This raises the 
fascinating question, What were they doing in LBi? In order even to 
guess about this, we need to consider what the frontopolar cortex does 
in people. 

Paul W. Burgess, of the University College, London, and his colleagues 
studied the functions of BA io in human volunteers whose brains were 
imaged as they carried out various cognitive tasks . 19 One problem in pin- 
ning down its functions is that BA io becomes activated during a bewil- 
dering variety of circumstances, including when people recall specific 
events, learn a motor routine, or make judgments. It is fickle, however, 
and sometimes doesn’t “light up” during these kinds of tasks. People 
who have suffered accidental damage to BA io are poor at multitasking, 
because they have difficulty carrying out plans. In a nice piece of detec- 
tive work, Burgess’s team analyzed a voluminous literature concerning 
the functions of BA io and added their own findings to the mix. The part 
of this area that is toward the side of the brain, they concluded, nudges 
individuals to pay attention to sensory input from the outside world 
and to keep an eye out for what’s going to happen next (watchfulness). 
Burgess suggested that a main function of BA io is to coordinate mental 
switching between internally generated thoughts and those stimulated 
by external events. In other words, this part of the brain may provide 
a kind of gateway or router that helps people switch between different 
mental states. 

When people are not busy with other tasks, the part of BA io that 
is closer to the midline of the brain automatically prompts internally 
generated thoughts, daydreaming, or simply “zoning out.” This region 
also becomes activated when people have vivid dreams accompanied 
by rapid eye movements . 20 Although we sometimes chastise ourselves 
when our minds wander, such a “default” mode allows us mentally to 
preexperience how we might act in future situations and to ponder 
anticipated pleasures and pains. Patients with damaged frontopolar cor- 
tex cannot simulate future events and are therefore eternally bound to 
the present. These findings from contemporary neuroscience shed light 


122 


/ Flo's Little Brain 


on the possible evolutionary significance of the dramatic increase in the 
relative size of BA io during hominin evolution. To quote psychologists 
Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson: 

The cortex is interested in feelings because they encode the wisdom that 
our species has acquired over millennia about the adaptive significance of 
the events we are perceiving. Alas, actually perceiving a bear is a potentially 
expensive way to learn about its adaptive significance, and thus evolution 
has provided us with a method for getting this information in advance of 
the encounter. When we preview the future and prefeel its consequences, 
we are soliciting advice from our ancestors . 21 

Just as actually encountering a bear would be potentially expensive 
for humans who lack the neurological machinery for imagining and 
rehearsing such situations, encountering giant Komodo dragons on the 
island of Flores might have been disastrous for hobbits had they not had 
such a developed frontopolar region. BA io of LBi’s brain was clearly 
expanded compared with similarly sized brains of apes and early homi- 
nins. Because the remains of Homo floresiensis were discovered near stone 
tools and bones from animals that had been butchered, it is significant 
that a key advantage of a highly evolved frontopolar cortex may have 
been “an ability to pursue long-term behavioral plans and at the same 
time respond to demands of the physical or social environments. . . . 
The frontopolar cortex may have played an even more critical role in 
the gradual formation of complex behavioral and cognitive routines 
such as tool use in individuals and societies, that is, in human creativity 
rather than complex decision-making and reasoning .” 22 

WAS HOMO ERECTUS HOBBIT’S ANCESTOR? 

By the time we published our initial analysis of LBi’s virtual endocast, 
it was clear that numerous features distinguish it from those not only 
of apes and ourselves but also of Homo erectus. Nevertheless we were 
struck by how much more the overall shape of LBi’s endocast resembled 
the endocasts from Homo erectus compared with those of other speci- 


Flo’s Little Brain / 123 


mens (figure 17). This made us wonder if LBi’s endocast represented a 
miniaturized brain that was inherited from a larger-bodied and larger- 
brained Homo erectus ancestor. In other words, was Hobbit’s virtual 
endocast consistent with the idea that Homo floresiensis was a dwarfed 
descendant of Homo erectus ? After all, Homo erectus was living nearby on 
the island ofjava well before 1 million years ago, when the oldest known 
tools were produced on Flores. Perhaps the special features we detected 
on LBi’s endocast were hand-me-downs from ancestors who had man- 
aged to colonize on Flores and then evolve in isolation there. 

One way to explore this possibility is to examine the size of the brain 
compared with the size of the body. The ratio of brain size to body 
size (or relative brain size) scales in highly predictable ways within and 
between different species of mammals. Take Homo sapiens, for example. 
Smaller-bodied humans have relatively bigger brains than larger-bodied 
individuals. A baby, for example, has a relatively large brain (and head) 
compared with an adult. This is because, although the absolute sizes 
of both the brain and body increase as a child matures, the brain stops 
growing first, and RBS therefore decreases until the person’s body 
reaches adult size. Indeed, an adult would look very strange if his head 
were as relatively large as a baby’s! The scaling is similar when one 
compares contemporary human groups that have very different body 
sizes, such as normal-sized people and much smaller human pygmies. In 
keeping with the trend for growing individuals, populations of pygmies 
have relatively larger brains than populations of normal-sized individu- 
als, although the absolute sizes of their brains are somewhat smaller. 23 

The same scaling principles work for different contemporary species 
that are related to one another. Thus, smaller-bodied monkeys tend 
to have a larger RBS than bigger monkeys. This isn’t always the case, 
however. For example, humans have evolved an extraordinarily large 
RBS — so much so that our brains are over three times the size one 
would expect for apes with similar body masses. 

These scaling principles also break down when one compares spe- 
cies of hominins that lived at different times. Despite their smaller bod- 


124 / Flo’s Little Brain 


ies, australopithecines that lived millions of years ago (the famous Lucy, 
for example) had a smaller RBS than modern people. In fact, the RBS 
of australopithecines was very similar to that of living chimpanzees. 
Humans therefore have brains that are over three times the sizes of both 
australopithecines and apes of similar body mass, because evolution 
pulled the RBS of our ancestors to a whole new level. Homo erectus was 
evolutionarily and temporally intermediary between australopithecines 
and humans, and so was its RBS, which was twice that of apes and aus- 
tralopithecines. 24 One therefore expects species that descended from 
early hominins to have a larger average RBS than their ancestors had. 

Applying these principles to Homo floresiensis, we expected LBi, who 
lived a mere 18,000 years ago, to have evolved an RBS that was greater 
than her ancestors’. If, as some believed, she was descended directly 
from Homo erectus , her RBS should have been greater than twice the 
average RBS for chimpanzees and australopithecines. One might also 
have predicted that her RBS would have been larger than that of Homo 
erectus for the same reasons that human pygmies have a larger average 
RBS than their bigger-bodied cousins. To our surprise, the RBS of LBi 
turned out to be considerably smaller than the best estimates of RBS 
for Homo erectus. With a cranial capacity of 417 cm 3 and a body weight 
estimated to be between 30 and 35 kg (66-77 lbs.), Hobbit’s RBS fell 
squarely on the curve for apes and australopithecines. 25 This did not 
bode well for LBi being an island-dwarfed descendant of Homo erectus. 
As an alternative possibility, we concluded our paper with the sugges- 
tion that “H. erectus and H. floresiensis may have shared a common ances- 
tor that was an unknown small-bodied and small-brained hominin.” 26 

We could not completely rule out the insular-dwarfism hypothesis, 
however, for the simple reason that no one really knew if the scaling 
principles described above apply to animals that become dwarfed on 
islands. Is there something about living in harsh island environments 
that causes RBS to veer from its predicted path when animals become 
dwarfed? A hint that RBS sometimes scales in unexpected ways ap- 
peared nearly 70 years ago when the renowned paleontologist Franz 


Flo’s Little Brain / 125 


Weidenreich noted with some puzzlement that the RBS of dwarfed wild 
dogs, rather than being larger, was approximately the same as that of 
larger wild dogs. 27 A former student in my laboratory, Angela Schauber, 
found the same thing when she compared RBS in mainland foxes and 
their dwarfed cousins that live on a few isolated islands off the coast of 
Southern California. 

Another clue came from a 2009 study by British paleontologists 
Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister, who examined the RBS in two spe- 
cies of extinct dwarf hippopotamus from the island of Madagascar. 28 
Weston and Lister used a larger African species of living hippo to model 
the extinct dwarfs’ nearest mainland relative. The cranial capacities 
for the dwarfs turned out to be as much as 30 percent smaller than 
those of mainland hippos after body sizes had been taken into account, 
which violates the traditional scaling principles discussed above. The 
authors also reviewed similar findings for island-living dwarfed bovids 
(cloven-hoofed mammals) and elephants. Weston and Lister suggested 
that the reason brain size was able to evolve independently of body size 
on islands is that brain tissue is energetically expensive to grow and 
maintain, and a decrease in its volume may therefore have been advan- 
tageous for survival in environments with limited resources. 29 

These exciting findings about RBS in hippopotamuses clearly chal- 
lenge current understanding of brain-body scaling in mammals and 
suggest that the process of dwarfism might account for the small brain 
size of Hobbit. 30 However, although the dwarfed Homo erector hypothesis 
regarding Homo floresiensis is a distinct possibility (take another look at 
figure 17), we can by no means be certain that it is the correct scenario. 
I shall return to this controversial issue in chapter 8. 

Whomever Homo floresiensis was descended from, one thing is for sure. 
LBi’s virtual endocast revealed a highly convoluted cerebral cortex that 
had a combination of features never before seen in a primate endocast 
or brain. Some of these traits were advanced, and overall the endo- 
cast appeared, at least to Scooter, Kirk, Fred, and me, to represent a 
clear example of global neurological reorganization. Further, there was 


n 6 / Flo’s Little Brain 


nothing in Hobbit’s little endocast that suggests she would have been 
incapable of the activities and cognitive skills that were attributed to 
her by Peter Brown, Mike Morwood, and their collaborators. Contrary 
to the trend for other hominins, brain size is unlikely to have increased 
during the evolution of Homo floresiensis. Instead, only parts of the brain 
entailing the posterior association cortex, the prefrontal cortex, and the 
back part of the temporal lobes seem to have enlarged much. As we 
have seen, these regions are especially important for higher cognition 
in modern humans, and it’s a good guess that they were for hobbits too. 

Recall from chapter 4 that, in 2008 , 1 learned from unpublished mate- 
rials at the University of the Witwatersrand Archives that Raymond 
Dart had thoroughly described expansions on the Taung endocast in 
exactly these same three cortical regions. Furthermore, Dart observed 
that these areas were widely distributed across the endocast, and he 
expressed the opinion that expansion in them was the only type of evi- 
dence that could indicate the evolutionary relationship between Australo- 
pithecus and humans. You can imagine my amazement, then, at discover- 
ing Dart’s observations three years after my colleagues at Mallinckrodt 
and I had discovered expansions in the same association areas on LBi’s 
endocast (along with noting the importance of their being widely dis- 
tributed or globally arranged). I had gone to Wits to learn about Dart’s 
reaction to the controversy that surrounded Taung and how it affected 
his research, in order to compare the discoveries of Australopithecus afri- 
canus and Homo floresiensis from historical and philosophical points of 
view. This neurological coincidence left me wondering if there might 
not be some sort of evolutionary connection between the two. 

Meanwhile, Hobbit’s little endocast was about to deliver a big evo- 
lutionary message — brains don’t necessarily have to grow bigger to 
become better. The addition of LBi to the hominin record opened a 
broader range of possibilities regarding the relative importance of brain 
size and neurological reorganization in hominins, and one couldn’t help 
but wonder what other surprising species of hominin were out there just 


Flo’s Little Brain / 127 


waiting to be discovered. Did BA 10 light up during the REM sleep of 
hobbits as they experienced nightmares of trying to escape from giant 
Komodo dragons or during the day when they planned how best to 
bring down a stegodont? We will never know. Time will tell, however, 
whether or not Homo floresiensis is really a new human species as its dis- 
coverers claim. 

It was clear to us that LBi’s endocast looked nothing like the human 
brains that were described in the clinical literature for microcephaly. 
And it sure didn’t look like the one endocast from a microcephalic that 
we included in our Science paper (figure 17). As the March 3, 2005, publica- 
tion date for our paper approached, we were tremendously excited. We 
had been muzzled because of Sciences embargo policy and were dying 
to see how our paper would be received. The National Geographic 
Society was getting ready to air its film and had joined in a coordinated 
effort with Science magazine to manage the anticipated publicity about 
Hobbit’s brain. Public-relations people from Science alerted members of 
the press whom they trusted, so that they could begin preparing stories 
ahead of time, which would be released when the embargo lifted. I gave 
many telephone interviews to media from around the world, and so did 
Morwood. 

Just before the embargo lifted on March 3 , 1 went to the Florida State 
University radio station to take part in a live international telephone 
conference with reporters from around the world. For an hour, an editor 
from Science (Brooks Hanson), Mike Morwood, and I answered ques- 
tions about Homo floresiensis and LBi’s virtual endocast. The embargo 
lifted at two o’clock, and news stories immediately started coming up 
everywhere. Later that day, my colleagues from Mallinckrodt and I 
were thrilled to see a story on the web about our research on Hobbit’s 
brain on the front page of the New York Times. My only diary notation 
that was a portent of things to come was a March 2 comment about the 
many telephone interviews I’d given to reporters: “Disappointing that 
everyone is so focused on the microcephalic question.” 


128 / Flo’s Little Brain 


THE MICROCEPHALIC QUESTION 

And focused on the microcephalic question they were. In various news 
stories about our report on LBi’s brain, skeptical scientists reiterated 
their views that LBi was a pathological human being rather than a new 
species. James Phillips, an archaeologist from the University of Illinois 
at Chicago who had once been one of my professors (and a good one 
at that), told the Washington Post that the tools and artifacts found with 
LBi’s skull “were made by [fully competent] modern humans. . . . This 
individual could not mentally have made them .” 31 His colleague from 
the Field Museum of Natural History, primatologist Robert Martin, 
was even more outspoken, telling reporters that our brain-scan study 
was “trivial ,” 32 adding, “I’m suggesting the Flores discovery is a pathol- 
ogy, and I’m surprised they would publish this with such limited infor- 
mation .” 33 Martin was especially concerned about the RBS of LBi, 
which he thought was too small to be the result of island dwarfism (the 
hippopotamus study described above had not yet been done), and he 
was also critical of the particular microcephalic specimen that we had 
included in the study. As detailed in the next chapter, we would be 
hearing much more from Martin. 

Meanwhile, another news story related to Hobbit was also unfolding. 
The day after our paper was published, the Los Angeles Times reported: 

While researchers investigated the creature’s brain structure, anthropolo- 
gists in Indonesia were locked in a months-long squabble over custody of 
the bones. They were returned to their rightful repository at the Center for 
Archeology injakarta only last week, archeologist Michael Morwood, who 
led the team that made the discovery, said Thursday. “Some of the most 
important material has been damaged,” said Morwood. . . . This is not the 
activity of responsible scientists. This is appalling, irresponsible behavior. 34 

So far, the handful of scientists who were asserting that LBi was a 
microcephalic human had produced very little, if any, evidence to sup- 
port their claims. We knew that in order to address the issue, we would 
have to do a second investigation on a reasonable number of micro- 
cephalic virtual endocasts. Toward that end, we began locating skulls of 


Flo’s Little Brain / 129 


microcephalies that we could CT scan and submitted a proposal to the 
National Geographic Society for financial support. It was a good thing, 
too, because we learned during the first week ofjuly 2005 that three sci- 
entists from Germany (Jochen Weber, Alfred Czarnetzki, and Carsten 
Pusch) had just submitted a technical comment to Science in which they 
claimed to have data from 19 microcephalic modern humans that showed 
LBi’s endocast was, indeed, from a microcephalic rather than a new spe- 
cies. Science invited us to provide an accompanying response. Both pub- 
lications appeared online in October 2005. 35 

In their comment, Weber and his colleagues focused on one particu- 
lar microcephalic endocast, for which they reported a cranial capacity 
of 415 cm 3 compared with our measurement of 417 cm 3 for LBi. They 
also calculated the same six ratios that we used to capture information 
about overall brain shape in LBi. As discussed above, these ratios con- 
firmed what our eyes suggested about the general shape of LBi’s endo- 
cast — namely, that it resembled the endocasts of Homo erectus (figure 17). 
Remarkably, Weber’s results suggested that their key microcephalic 
endocast could have passed for the identical twin of LBi’s endocast: 
“The values for our specimen are nearly identical to those obtained for 
H. floresiensis, which are shown in parentheses: breadth/length = 0.85 
(0.86); height/length = 0.68 (0.68); frontal breadth/length = 0.64 (0.65); 
(breadth minus frontal breadth)/length = 0.21 (0.21); (breadth minus 
frontal breadth)/height = 0.31 (0.31); and height/breadth = 0.80 (0.79).” 36 
Weber’s comment also included a figure that compared our images of 
the front, back, top, and right side of LBi’s endocast with corresponding 
views from what was identified as a modern microcephalic endocast, 
although it was not clear whether or not the latter was supposed to be 
from their key microcephalic specimen. 

In our response, we pointed out that Weber’s team had failed to pub- 
lish the four measurements that they used to calculate the six ratios. 
(Publishing the raw data along with the ratios is standard practice, as 
we had done in our Science report.) We also discussed why we did not 
believe that the four images that were compared with our different views 


130 / Flo’s Little Brain 


of LBi’s endocast were from only one endocast of a modern microce- 
phalic. (As just one example, the front end of Weber and his colleagues’ 
endocast, shown in the middle of the top row of figure 19, is expanded 
and curved downward, whereas it is truncated in the side view, shown 
at the bottom of that column, in row D. These cannot be images of the 
same endocast.) Further, the authors had not used conventional land- 
marks when orienting the side view of their endocast. We corrected 
the orientation and provided our own comparative illustration (see fig- 
ure 19), which included four views of the endocasts from the microce- 
phalic used in our Science report (left column), Weber’s microcephalies) 
(middle column), and LBi (right column). The two main points we made 
were that the views of the supposedly single microcephalic endocast 
from Germany were from more than one individual and that, rather 
than resembling LBi, these endocasts most closely resembled the micro- 
cephalic endocast from our Science paper. 

We concluded our response by stressing that if Weber’s team had 
an endocast from a modern microcephalic human that was essentially 
identical to LBi’s, “they should provide its absolute measurements, illus- 
trate its various views (in conventional orientations) compared to LBi, 
and clearly delineate the separation of cerebrum from cerebellum.” We 
added, “We have done the best we can to reply to this commentary 
without this information. ... If this is the best evidence that can be pro- 
duced from a sample of 19 microcephalies, we suggest that the authors 
reconsider their position on the microcephalic hypothesis regarding 
Homo floresiemis .” 37 

Clearly, the four images of microcephalic endocasts that Weber’s team 
had compared with LBi’s (figure 19) were neither from one individual 
nor identical to LBi’s. We did not think these images could be from the 
microcephalic specimen whose endocast was supposedly almost identi- 
cal to LBi’s. (For example, height/breadth = 0.80 in Weber’s key endo- 
cast compared with 0.79 in LBi does not make sense when you compare 
the middle and right images in row B of figure 19.) Why hadn’t Weber, 
Czarnetzki, and Pusch shown an image that included four views of their 



Figure 19. Endocasts, from left to right, of the microcephalic we described in 
our Science report, the microcephalies) described by Weber’s team, and LBi. 
The endocasts are scaled to the same size for comparative purposes. Views: 
(row A) front, (row B) back, (row C) top, with frontal lobes oriented upward, 
and (row D) right side, with frontal lobes oriented to the right. The speci- 
mens have been correctly aligned, and the ones in the left and right columns 
are virtual endocasts produced at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. The 
arrows in the last specimen in row A point to the most anterior part of LBi’s 
BA 10. Other features include the transverse blood sinus (t), the sigmoid blood 
sinus (s), frontal pole (fp), and occipital pole (op). The stippled areas in the 
views in row D represent the cerebellum, which is tucked underneath the 
occipital lobe and is located forward relative to op in LBi but not in the two 
microcephalies. Unlike nonpathological humans and LBi (see figure 22), the 
cerebellum is relatively large and protrudes posteriorly in the microcephalic 
brains/endocasts. Image created by Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of 
Radiology; modified slightly from Falk, Hildebolt, et al., Response, 2005. 


132 / Flo’s Little Brain 


key endocast next to LBi’s? This was not a trivial point. If the endocast 
existed, we obviously needed to include it in the study of microcephalic 
endocasts that we were gearing up to do. On November 23, 2005, I 
e-mailed Weber (copying his colleagues) the following message: 

Dear Dr. Weber, 

My team and I would very much like to know the repository of the 19 
microcephalies that you reported on in your recent technical comment 
in Science. In particular, could you please tell us the specimen number of 
the endocast with the cranial capacity of 415 cc that you focused on in 
your comment, and whom we could contact for permission to access this 
specimen. I would also appreciate learning which of the images in your 
technical comment were of this specimen. Thank you very much, and 
I’ll look forward to your reply. 

Cordially, Dean Falk 

Dr. Czarnetzki responded to my e-mail with a message that was friendly 
but evasive. He said that some of my questions had been answered by a 
particular journalist at Science and that I should contact her. (I did, and 
she did not have the information.) He also said that his team was pre- 
paring a more comprehensive publication that would include all of the 
data and specimens but that it would take some time. (Such a paper has 
not appeared during the nearly six years since I received the message.) 
It is one thing to decline to share original data that are still being ana- 
lyzed by the scientists who collected them; it is quite another to withhold 
information about the location and identification numbers of published 
specimens. Because we were beginning our own study of microcephalic 
endocasts, it was imperative that we attempt to verify the claims about 
this particular specimen. (Indeed, attempts to replicate or verify studies 
are an inherent part of the scientific method.) 

We contacted a senior editor at Science for help, and he agreed to take 
the matter up with the authors of the Science comment. He asked if there 
was any other information we would like him to request while he was at 
it. We requested confirmation of where the 19 microcephalic specimens 


Flo’s Little Brain / 133 


were stored, the name and e-mail address of the collection’s curator, 
the identification number of the key microcephalic specimen, the four 
absolute measurements of that specimen that were used to calculate the 
six ratios, and which, if any, of Weber’s published images of microce- 
phalic endocasts were from that key specimen. 

Two and a half months later, the editor at Science provided us with the 
answers he had received from Germany: The endocasts were all in the 
collection in Tubingen, Germany; the curator was Dr. Czarnetzki; the 
identification number of the key endocast was “osutzf”; and none of the 
images in their comment were of this specimen. More to the point, the 
four absolute measurements for the key endocast were: length = 111.75 
mm; breadth = 95.02 mm; height = 76.15 mm; and frontal breadth = 71.25 
mm. When we did the arithmetic, these measurements turned out to 
be 93 percent, 92 percent, 94 percent, and 92 percent of the comparable 
measurements that we had published for LBi. This was remarkable, 
because the published volume for Weber’s microcephalic was 415 cm 3 
compared with LBi’s 417 cm 3 . (As a thought experiment, imagine that 
you have two cubes, one with sides that are each 10 cm long, the other 
with sides that are 9 cm long. The volume of the first cube [length x 
breadth x height] would be 1,000 cm 3 ; the volume of the second would 
be 729 cm 3 .) If the volumes of the two similarly shaped cubes (or endo- 
casts) were equivalent, then their basic dimensions should have been 
too. Something was very wrong. 

Nevertheless, we attempted to locate osut4 so that it could be in- 
cluded in our microcephalic study. During this process, we learned 
that other information that Science had been given was incorrect. For 
one thing, I was informed that Dr. Czarnetzki had not been curator 
at Tubingen for the past four years. When specimen osut4 was finally 
located there, it turned out to consist of fragmentary cranial remains 
but no endocast. It was not the key microcephalic specimen, after all. 
Continued searches at Tubingen confirmed that the single key speci- 
men was not to be found there. Further efforts to identify and locate the 
key specimen resulted in the suggestion that it might be in Brno, Czech 


134 / Flo’s Little Brain 


Republic. However, we were told that this could not be confirmed, 
because the colleague there who would have known (Professor Milan 
Dokladal) had died in 2004. 

The comment by Jochen Weber, Alfred Czarnetzki, and Carsten 
Pusch that was published in Science about a year after the announcement 
of Homo floresiensis was highly questionable, to put it in the kindest pos- 
sible terms. Unfortunately, this scientifically flawed publication contin- 
ues to be cited by those who are skeptical about the legitimacy of Homo 
floresiensis. As detailed in the next chapter, others would soon jump on 
the Hobbit-was-a-microcephalic bandwagon. Furthermore, when that 
particular bandwagon broke down, they would come up with new “sick- 
Hobbit hypotheses.” 38 We were in for a wild ride. 


SEVEN 


Sick Hobbits, 
Quarrelsome Scientists 


It is disconcerting to realize that as their intellects were 
shaped and limited by the dogmas — often scientific — of 
their day, so may the intellect of the modern investigator 
be shaped by the a priori judgments of his time. 

Jacob W. Gruber 


Are we having fun yet? 


Zippy the Pinhead 


Discoveries of new hominin species that challenge scientific and reli- 
gious dogma have traditionally been greeted with skepticism by both sci- 
entists and laymen. 1 This trend began in 1856 when fossilized bones from 
a Neanderthal skeleton were unearthed by workers quarrying for lime 
in a cave near Diisseldorf, Germany. 2 The remains were highly unusual 
and included a thick, oddly shaped skullcap with massive brow ridges. 
When the discovery was first announced, the skeleton was described 
as representing a hitherto unknown human race of great antiquity. 3 It 
would be three years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of 
Species, however, so many scientists still had “imaginations and intellects 
[that were] chained by too-literal interpretations of Scriptural record, 
which maintained a recency of 6,000 years for the creation of man.” 4 
After the appearance of Origin, some scientists embraced Neanderthal 


•35 


136 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


as support for evolution. A few outspoken scholars, on the other hand, 
remained determined to discredit the evidence and described Neander- 
thal variously as having “a much greater resemblance to the apes,” “some 
poor idiot or hermit,” and, more imaginatively, a human with rickets 
who had been a “Mongolian Cossack belonging to one of the hordes 
driven by Russia, through Germany, into France in 1814.” 5 Time and the 
discovery of many more Neanderthal fossils eventually vindicated the 
Dtisseldorf discovery as that of a previously unrecognized hominin — 
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis . 6 

This pattern continued as new species of hominins were unearthed. 7 
Thus, Eugene Dubois’s discovery of Pithecanthropus (now Homo) erectus in 
Java in 1891 met with a similar negative reception from both scientists 
and laymen (which will be further discussed in chapter 9). 8 As we saw in 
chapter 3, the same thing happened later when Australopithecus africanus 
was discovered and announced by Raymond Dart in 1925. In fact, because 
of scientists’ preconceived ideas, it took decades for many of them to accept 
Taung as a hominin rather than an aberrant ape. 9 Similar to the his- 
tory for Neanderthals, the discoveries of both Pithecanthropus erectus and 
Australopithecus africanus were eventually vindicated by the recovery of 
additional fossils. Ironically, the one major find that scientists embraced 
as legitimate from the start (but with bickering about its details) was 
Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus davisoni), which turned out to be a fraud. (As 
we saw in chapter 1, religious fundamentalists got that one right.) 

Clearly, the tendency to dismiss newly discovered hominin species 
is a deeply rooted one that reflects judgments that are, at least to some 
degree, “gut level.” Although the motivations of religious fundamental- 
ists are not difficult to understand, the reasons for such strong (almost 
knee-jerk) reactions in scientists who accept evolutionary theory are less 
obvious. These will be explored in chapter 9. For now, it is worth dis- 
cussing one of the likely reasons that such a glaring trend has developed 
among scientists: The fossils that generated the most controversy were 
those that looked totally different from the remains of modern humans 
and from other fossils that had already been discovered. In particular, 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 137 


they appeared to be extremely primitive compared with the remains 
of contemporary people. The skulls, for example, had combinations of 
features that had never before been seen, such as the huge brow ridges, 
thickened bones, and oddly shaped faces of Neanderthals. Ever since 
the first fossil hominins were recognized, paleoanthropologists have 
tended to pride themselves that humans are the pinnacle of evolution. 
Such bizarre-looking potential “missing links” may simply have been 
too unsavory for scientists to swallow, especially if they were already 
convinced that the skeletons in the human evolutionary closet should 
have been more refined-looking. “Surely,” they may have thought, a my 
ancestor didn’t look like that!” 

Paleoanthropologists have traditionally dismissed radical new dis- 
coveries by casting aspersions on their physical appearances in ways that 
appeal to prejudices rather than making reasoned inferences about them 
within broader evolutionary contexts . 10 Interestingly, these portrayals 
of fossils may, thus, be viewed as a kind of ad hominem (“against the 
man”) attack that has focused on prehistoric rather than contemporary 
humans. The inclination for paleoanthropologists to view contemporary 
humans as an evolutionary tour de force has rested on a firm appre- 
ciation (some might say overappreciation) of our species’ intellectual 
achievements and the associated conviction that human brains must be 
better than those of all other animals, including prehistoric hominins. 
Such ad hominem attacks, therefore, have focused on the presumed 
mentality of breakthrough fossil hominins, which have been character- 
ized as “brutes,” “hermits,” “idiots,” and, in the case of Pithecanthropus, 
as a “microcephalic idiot.” The last characterization is related to the 
association of the brain with intelligence and creativity, thus emphasiz- 
ing a special interest in cranial capacity in the discussions about newly 
discovered hominin species. 

Today, little seems to have changed when it comes to the tensions and 
controversies surrounding the discovery of early hominins. Soon after 
Homo floresiensis was announced in Nature, a small, vocal group of scientists 
declared that its type specimen, LBi, represented a pathological Homo 


138 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


sapiens rather than a new species. The issues of mentality and brain size 
were, once again, front and center, and they coalesced in the specific 
pathology that these workers attributed to LBi. As was asserted for Pithe- 
canthropus erectus when it was discovered nearly 120 years ago, LBi was sup- 
posedly a Homo sapiens who suffered from microcephaly, which literally 
means “small headedness.” One contemporary researcher who espouses 
the microcephalic interpretation has even been quoted as referring to 
LBi as a “village idiot.” 11 Other scientists in the pathological-Hobbit 
camp raised doubts about whether Homo floresiensis was intelligent enough 
to have produced the stone tools found in Liang Bua and elsewhere on 
Flores, although it is highly unlikely that the tools were made by anyone 
else for the variety of reasons that were discussed in chapter 6. 

The main thing that led some scientists to suggest that LBi was a 
microcephalic, of course, was her extremely small brain. As is always 
the case, the volume occupied by LBi’s brain would have been less than 
the capacity of her cranium, because the brain occupies the braincase 
along with fluids, vessels, nerves, and membranes. With a cranial capac- 
ity of 417 cm 3 , the size of LBi’s brain would have fit not only within the 
range of brain sizes for microcephalies but also within the ranges for the 
great apes and australopithecines. As we shall see, however, brain size 
alone does not a microcephalic make! 

MICROCEPHALY 

Microcephaly is a condition in which individuals have abnormally small 
heads because their brains failed to grow normally. It may be present at 
birth, or it may develop during the first few years of life when the face 
continues growing, but the brain and braincase fail to keep up. Micro- 
cephalic children have small heads with sloping foreheads but relatively 
large faces, an appearance that becomes more exaggerated in the lucky 
ones who live to be adults. This appearance has led to the unkind appel- 
lation “pinheads.” 12 

Microcephaly is a complex syndrome. A variety of genetic muta- 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 139 


tions or the exposure of a fetus to environmental factors such as tox- 
ins or radiation may cause it. It can occur in combination with other 
disorders, such as dwarfism (in which case it is classified as secondary 
microcephaly). Microcephalies may have bodies of normal size, or they 
may be small. The syndrome is found all over the world, especially in 
communities where it is common for close relatives such as first cousins 
to mate. 13 Afflicted individuals are likely to be mentally challenged to 
varying degrees, and those who live to be adults are usually unable to 
care for themselves. 

Interestingly, doubting scientists are not the only ones susceptible 
to equating primitive hominins with microcephalies. This same asso- 
ciation has also become ingrained in American popular culture, since 
at least the 1840s, when sideshows became a part of traveling circuses, 
dime museums, and carnivals. 14 When the El Salvadoran siblings Maximo 
and Bartola appeared in an exhibition in Philadelphia in 1852, they were 
billed as “microcephalic Aztecs,” supposed child-idols from the non- 
existent city of Iximaya. 15 William Henry Johnson, known as “Zip the 
Pinhead,” was displayed near the turn of the century by P. T. Barnum 
(among others), dressed in a furry suit inside a cage, which he rattled 
as he screeched. Audiences were told that Johnson was a “missing link” 
who had been caught in Africa, where he had eaten only nuts, fruit, and 
raw meat. The microcephalies Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow (“Zip and 
Pip”) worked in various sideshows during the first part of the twenti- 
eth century, where they were billed as “twins from Yucatan” and “wild 
Australian children.” They also appeared in Tod Browning’s classic 1932 
horror film, Freaks (figure 20). 16 Another microcephalic, Simon Metz 
(Schlitzie), also appeared in Freaks and had worked the carnival circuit 
as “the Last of the Aztecs” and “the Monkey Girl.” (Although male, 
Metz always wore muumuus.) 

As we shall see, the assertions of some scientists that Hobbit was 
a microcephalic human were every bit as dramatic as the claims that 
microcephalic sideshow performers represented prehistoric humans or 
“missing links.” 17 



Figure 20. Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) with her arms around (left 
to right) the famous microcephalies Simon Metz (Schlitzie) and Zip and 
Pip (Jenny Lee and Elvira Snow). Another microcephalic called Bird Girl 
(Elizabeth Green) peeks from behind Dione’s right arm, while Angeleno 
(Angelo Rossitto, who is not a microcephalic) clings to Schlitzie. Image 
from Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks. Obtained from Photofest Photo 
Archives, New York City. 



Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsotne Scientists / 141 


WAS HOBBIT SICK IN THE HEAD? 

As discussed in the previous chapter, my team’s description of LBi’s 
virtual endocast in Science provoked a highly questionable commentary 
from colleagues in Germany, who claimed that they had measured an 
endocast that was from the skull of a human microcephalic and looked 
identical to LBi’s.' 8 Because our strenuous efforts to locate the endocast 
were unsuccessful and for other reasons noted earlier, we did not find 
this comment to be credible. Science subsequently published a comment 
by Robert Martin and his colleagues in response to our report, which 
also asserted LBi was a microcephalic human rather than a member of 
a previously unknown species. 19 Although, as detailed below, we were 
unconvinced by the reasoning behind it, this comment at least iden- 
tified the locations and specimen numbers of the two microcephalic 
endocasts that his team compared with that of LBi. One of these was an 
endocast from the skull of a 32-year-old “Basuto woman” from South 
Africa in the collections of the Field Museum, and Martin kindly pro- 
vided us with a copy of it. 20 

The heart of Martin’s commentary rested on simple line drawings 
of two skulls and two endocasts — the right side of LBi’s skull, the left 
side of a half-skull of an adult male microcephalic from India, a half 
endocast from that specimen, and the left side of the endocast from 
the microcephalic Basuto woman. The drawings of the two skulls were 
claimed to be similar in overall size and proportions, and those of the 
two microcephalic endocasts were both said to “have relatively normal 
external appearance despite their very small size.” 21 The reasoning in 
the comment was that LBi’s endocast must have been from a microce- 
phalic, because LBi’s skull resembled the half-skull of the Indian micro- 
cephalic, which produced one of the two similar-looking microcephalic 
endocasts! However, neither a drawing nor a photograph of LBi’s endo- 
cast was included in the comparison, although it was the focus of the 
discussion, and images could easily have been reproduced from our 
Science article. Had an image of LBi’s endocast been included, it would 
have been immediately apparent that it looked nothing like those from 


142 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


the two microcephalies (figure 21 ). 22 (Similarly, the comparison failed to 
include an image of the Basuto woman’s skull .) 23 

We were surprised by this comment, because it is unusual for sci- 
entists to make assertions based only on sketches. A more typical (and 
scientific) approach would have been to quantify comparisons with mea- 
surements taken from specimens that had been oriented according to 
scientific conventions (such measurements were also available in the 
literature for both LBi’s endocast and skull) and to provide photographs 
of the actual specimens in addition to line drawings . 24 

The comment did not stop there. It also asserted that the scaling 
of relative brain size in mammals, including fossil elephants that had 
lived on Mediterranean islands, indicated that LBi’s RBS was far too 
small to be explained by the evolutionary dwarfism of Homo floresiensis 
from a larger-bodied ancestor. As discussed in chapter 6 , however, evi- 
dence from foxes and hippopotamuses now suggests that brain size may 
scale in unexpected ways relative to body size in animals that become 
dwarfed on islands. If so, LBi’s small RBS could have been associated 
with island dwarfing . 25 Another possible explanation exists for LBi’s 
small (apelike and australopithecine-like) RBS, namely that she simply 
retained this feature from ancestors who were approximately the same 
size as Homo floresiensis in the first place — no dwarfing required . 26 As 
discussed in the next chapter, there is not yet a consensus about which 
of these two possibilities is more likely. 

The particular microcephalic skull that we used in the comparisons 
for our Science paper was also a source of contention in the comment. 
The copy of the skull of a European microcephalic that we imaged had 
been borrowed from the American Museum ofNatural History and had 
been cast in two parts. One part was the cap of the skull, and the other 
was the rest of it. Although the two pieces fit together perfectly and pro- 
duced a seamless virtual endocast after being CT scanned in St. Louis, 
Martin objected strenuously to our use of the specimen, because the 
two parts had been cast from different batches of plaster. We saw this as 
a red herring, however, especially since our virtual endocast turned out 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists j 143 


C3 

LB1 Basuto Woman 

Figure 21. The right side of rhe virtual endocast of LBi compared with that 
of the microcephalic Basuto woman. The two have completely different 
shapes. Courtesy of Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. 



to have a volume of 276 cm 3 , which differed only slightly from the 272 
cm 3 volume that was originally reported. 27 

Nor did we share a concern expressed about the microcephalic’s 
death at only 10 years of age in comparison with LBi’s in adulthood. 
A landmark study by Michel Hofman of the Netherlands Institute for 
Brain Research, in Amsterdam, showed that brain size stops increasing 
in microcephalies after they reach an age of around four years. 28 The 
brain of the little microcephalic we included in our first study had been 
well past this stage of development. Furthermore, we later showed that 
the results of quantitative studies on microcephalic endocasts are not 
skewed by including less-than-fully- adult individuals in samples. 29 

Clearly, Martin and his colleagues had gone to great lengths to argue 
that LBi had a pathology that entailed growth retardation of the body 
combined with microcephaly. As an example, they mentioned microce- 
phalic osteodysplastic primordial dwarfism type II (MOPD II), which 
has been attributed to LBi more recently by a German team led by 
Anita Rauch. 30 Although MOPD II patients share short stature with 
LBi, the resemblance stops there, as can be seen by comparing images 
of both. 31 For starters, relative head size is markedly larger in MOPD 


144 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


II patients, and their limb bones are much thinner than those of Homo 
floresiensis. They are also characterized by such low intelligence that 
living independently is impossible for them, and no pregnancies have 
ever been documented for MOPD II women. 32 Since Homo floresiensis is 
represented by at least eight individuals who lived between 95,000 and 
17,000 years ago, this species was not only intelligent enough to produce 
a sustained record of tool production, hunting, and fire use, but also 
fertile. For these and many other reasons that are detailed elsewhere, it 
is obvious that LBi was not afflicted with MOPD II. 33 

Despite our reservations about many of the opinions expressed in 
their comment, Martin and his colleagues made one very important 
point that we knew we would have to address: Our preliminary com- 
parative study of LBi’s virtual endocast included only one endocast 
from a microcephalic. As noted, microcephaly is a complex condition 
that can be caused by mutations in different genes as well as by a range 
of environmental factors. Additionally, it may or may not be associ- 
ated with other pathological conditions. If we really wanted to rule 
out microcephaly for LBi, we needed to carry out a scientific study 
that included a decent number of endocasts from microcephalies. Our 
research was about to be diverted in an entirely new direction because 
of the controversy about the legitimacy of Homo floresiensis. 

We once again requested (and received) financial support from the 
National Geographic Society. The next hurdle was to locate a num- 
ber of skulls from normal and microcephalic humans that could be CT 
scanned in order to produce virtual endocasts. Although finding non- 
pathological skulls was not a problem, locating microcephalic ones 
became a challenge. First of all, their cranial capacities had to be within 
an acceptable range for appropriate comparison with the capacity of 
LBi’s. A study of 1,366 normal males and 948 normal females suggested 
that the usual practice of defining the upper limits for the brain size of 
microcephalies on the basis of certain statistical calculations on data 
collected from normal individuals would not be useful, because, for 
these samples, the upper limits for male and female microcephalies 


Sick Hobbits , Quarrelsome Scientists / 145 


were determined to be 1,300 cm 3 and 1,100 cm 3 , respectively. 34 These 
capacities were way too high, considering that Hobbit’s cranial capacity 
was only 417 cm 3 and that an adult size of 400-500 cm 3 (or grams) was 
frequently quoted in the clinical literature for primary microcephalies. 
For these reasons, we decided to identify a range of cranial capacities 
for the microcephalies in our study by estimating that range from 25 
adult microcephalies rather than relying on statistics generated from 
normal humans. 35 This procedure led us to conclude that, ideally, we 
should include individuals whose capacities were 650 cm 3 or lower in 
our microcephalic sample. 

As is the case for fossils of our early relatives, microcephalic skulls 
are rare. Nevertheless, colleagues in the United States and elsewhere 
helped us scrape together skulls and CT data that brought our sample 
of them (which included the Basuto specimen) to ten. 36 Despite its small 
size, this group was extremely diverse, which increased its chances of 
capturing general features that might characterize microcephaly. The 
sample included individuals of both sexes ranging in age from ten years 
to adulthood and having cranial capacities from 276 to 671 cm 3 . 37 The 
microcephalies came from different parts of the world, including the 
United States, South America, Europe, and Africa. Most of the speci- 
mens were probably primary microcephalies, although at least one was 
a secondary microcephalic. We produced virtual endocasts for the ten 
microcephalies. For comparative purposes, ten virtual endocasts were 
obtained from skulls of normal men and women of African-American 
and European-derived heritages. 38 All of these are shown in figure 22. 

We thought it was important to explore whether anything other than 
absolute size distinguishes the microcephalic brains from the normal 
ones. As our critics had noted, microcephaly is an extremely complex 
condition. Perhaps the syndrome is so complicated and varied that our 
specimens would have nothing in common except their very small brain 
sizes. This turned out not to be the case, however. As shown in figure 23, 
certain shape features do, in fact, set the microcephalic endocasts apart 
from those of normal people. For one thing, the microcephalic endo- 










^*417, f 


1053. m 


1124. f 


1132. r 


1138, f 


1142. f 


1270. m 


1381. f 


1445. f 



Figure 22 . Virtual endocasts of Hobbit (“417, f”) and ten normal humans (above) 
and ten microcephalies and one “dwarf’ with secondary microcephaly (“ 752 , f”) 
(below). Specimen “ 358 , f” is from the Basuto woman. Images are of the right 
sides of the endocasts, and the cranial capacity (in cm’) and sex (m, f) are indi- 
cated by each one. Prepared by Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiol- 
ogy; reproduced from Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “Brain shape,” 2007 . 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 147 





572 


Figure 23. Brain shape in normal humans compared with microcephalic 
humans. Right side of a virtual endocast from a normal man (A), left side of 
an actual brain from a 6.5-year-old male microcephalic (B), and left side of a 
virtual endocast from an adult microcephalic man (C). Numbers represent cra- 
nial capacities (in cm 3 ). The underneath surface of the frontal lobes (arrows) is 
flatter in the microcephalies than in the normal individual. Notice also that the 
cerebellum (ce) is large, low, and the most posteriorly protruded structure in 
the microcephalies, whereas the occipital pole (op) protrudes farthest in normal 
humans. Prepared by Kirk Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology; photo- 
graph of the brain is courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medi- 
cine; reproduced from Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “Brain shape,” 2007. 


casts tend to have very narrow frontal lobes that are flattened rather 
than rounded on their underneath surfaces, like those of normal indi- 
viduals. They also have relatively large cerebella that protrude posteri- 
orly compared with the smaller cerebella of normal humans, which are 
tucked forward and underneath the occipital lobes. 

The next step was to try to quantify these observations and use 



148 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsotne Scientists 


them to assess the possibility of LBi’s being the remains of a micro- 
cephalic human. Toward that end, my colleagues at Mallinckrodt and 
I developed a mathematical formula that captures information about 
the particular shape features that separate microcephalic endocasts 
from those of normal humans. 39 Because the formula is independent of 
brain size, we were able to use it to classify LBi’s endocast, as well as 
those of the Basuto woman and a dwarf who, like LBi, had once been 
an approximately three-foot-tall adult female. (These specimens are 
labeled “417, f,” “358, f,” and “752, f,” respectively, in figure 22.) 40 The 
endocasts from the Basuto woman and dwarf classified with the micro- 
cephalies, which was not surprising, since they were from a primary 
and a secondary microcephalic, respectively. LBi’s endocast, on the 
other hand, ended up with the normal humans instead of the micro- 
cephalies, despite its tiny size and certain of its shape features that set 
it apart from humans. 41 

The bottom line is that the only thing that LBi’s endocast has in 
common with microcephalic endocasts is its small size. In fact, the 
shape of LBi’s endocast is the opposite of that which typifies microce- 
phalic endocasts. Thus, unlike those of microcephalies, LBi’s brain had 
an occipital lobe that projected farther back than the cerebellum, very 
wide temporal lobes with pointed rather than blunted tips, and a frontal 
lobe that was wide and had expanded areas at and underneath its most 
anterior part (see figure 24). 

We were confident that our 2007 study of microcephalic endocasts 
would, once and for all, settle the question about whether or not LBi 
had been afflicted with microcephaly. To us, she clearly had not. Never- 
theless, Martin continued to argue otherwise. For reasons that escaped 
us, he incorrectly claimed that we had examined the half-skull of the 
Indian microcephalic that was discussed above, and that we then delib- 
erately excluded this specimen’s endocast from our study. 42 However, 
we never examined either the half-skull or its endocast, although we 
had seen photographs of them. We did not seek a copy of the half- 
endocast because the photograph showed that the half-skull had been 


Sick Hobbits , Quarrelsome Scientists / 149 




Figure 24. Outlines of the right sides of endocasts from microcephalies and 
LBi. (A) Superimposed outlines of three microcephalic endocasts from our 
sample, which include the smallest (276 cm 3 ) and the largest (671 cm 3 ). These 
outlines reveal a generally similar shape in different-sized microcephalic 
endocasts despite the diversity of our sample. (B) The same three outlines 
with the outline of LBi’s endocast (417 cm 3 ) superimposed (depicted by the 
shaded area). The endocast of LBi has a long, low profile with an occipital 
pole (op) that projects farther back than the cerebellum (ce) compared with 
the microcephalies’ endocasts. The underneath surface of LBi’s frontal lobe 
(f) is also more expanded, and the temporal pole (tp) projects farther forward 
compared with that feature in the microcephalies’ endocasts. Created by Kirk 
Smith, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology; modified from Falk, Hildebolt, 
et al., “LBi’s virtual endocast, microcephaly” 2009. 


cut off-center, and our analyses depended on precise measurements of 
the distances between equivalent points on both sides of the skull . 43 
Martin, on the other hand, estimated measurements for the Indian’s 
endocast on the basis of an uncorrected midline, which we found at 
least as problematic as relying on line drawings in lieu of precise mea- 
surements or quibbling about different batches of plaster that were used 
to cast two parts of a skull . 44 

In the end, our research on microcephaly turned out to be worth- 
while, not just for assessing LBi’s virtual endocast, but also because 
of another, unanticipated result that is related to recent research on 
comparative molecular genetics. A number of genetic mutations have 


150 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsotne Scientists 


been linked with microcephaly. By comparing the microstructures of 
the normal forms of the relevant genes in humans and other primates, 
geneticists have identified at least two genes (ASPM and CDK5RAP2) 
that appear to have been under natural selection related to the increase 
in brain size during primate evolution. 45 These two genes appear to be 
strongly associated with neonatal brain size. Because mutations in them 
interfere with growth of the brain, some geneticists believe that their 
normal variants were likely to have been targets of positive selection 
for increased brain size during primate, including hominin, evolution. 

The normal form of these and other genes that are sometimes mutated 
and associated with microcephaly could also possibly have influenced 
other aspects of brain evolution, including overall shape. 46 If these sci- 
entists are right, then the pathological condition of microcephaly that 
disrupts normal brain development may be thought of as providing a 
kind of window or pointer into the past. Not that anyone is suggesting 
that microcephalies are evolutionary throwbacks. Instead, it seems that 
the disruption of certain genes in living people interferes with the nor- 
mal expression of traits (such as big brains) that evolved during hominin 
evolution. (Similarly, concluding that the much smaller-sized brains 
of our early ancestors were anything but normal would be incorrect.) 
Thus, mutations of specific genes that contribute to brain development 
may result in pathological traits that appear like those that were normal 
for our ancestors before they evolved the more advanced variations. 

The idea that the physical manifestations associated with certain ge- 
netic pathologies might provide glimpses into the distant past is intrigu- 
ing. If the small brains of microcephalies point to genes that, in their non- 
pathological states, were under intense natural selection during primate 
brain-size evolution, might similar reasoning hold for other features of 
microcephalic brains, such as their shapes? If so, would the fossil record 
contain ancestors who normally had brains that were not only the size but 
also the typical shape of modern microcephalic brains? 47 Our research 
on brain shape in microcephalies and early hominins suggests that this 
is, indeed, the case. The narrow frontal lobes with flattened under- 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 151 


neath surfaces, relatively wide back ends, nonprotruding occipital lobes, 
and stubby temporal lobes, which typify brain shape in microcephal- 
ies, also existed in one particular group of small-brained early African 
hominins that originated at some unknown date before 2.5 million years 
ago. 48 These primitive hominins, the so-called robust australopithecines 
(Paranthropus), are not thought to have been our direct ancestors. 

However, brain shape had become more advanced in another group 
of small-brained hominins that overlapped in time with robust austra- 
lopithecines — namely the gracile australopithecines (Australopithecus 
africanus) who were discovered by Raymond Dart and who are believed 
to have had a more direct evolutionary relationship with humans. 49 Fur- 
thermore, while brain size remained relatively static over the evolution 
of Paranthropus, it increased dramatically in descendants of Australopithe- 
cus , 50 What is particularly intriguing is that microcephalic endocasts are 
characterized by pathological shapes in the parts of the brain that Dart 
identified as being advanced toward a human condition in Taung and 
also that my team independently observed advanced shapes in the same 
parts of Hobbit’s endocast. I will explore these connections further in 
the next chapter. For now, suffice it to say that molecular geneticists are 
onto a technique for glimpsing the human past that may turn out to be 
very powerful when combined with evidence from the fossil record. 

One of the things that struck my colleagues at Mallinckrodt and me 
as we proceeded to work on Hobbit’s endocast was that the direction of 
our research was being channeled toward microcephaly because of the 
negative reaction to the discovery of Homo floresiensis by a mere handful 
of colleagues. Had you looked into a crystal ball before LBi was dis- 
covered and told us that we would be redirecting our research to focus 
on microcephaly, we would have been very surprised, if not downright 
incredulous. But shift scientific gears we did. As had happened his- 
torically with the other discoveries discussed earlier, scientific evidence 
eventually accumulated and prevailed over the unsubstantiated asser- 
tions that LBi was a microcephalic. 51 Consequently, a number of doubters 
and fence sitters have now backed away from this belief But that doesn’t 


152 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


mean they have all accepted the legitimacy of Homo floresiensis as a new 
species. When it became clear that microcephaly was an indefensible 
diagnosis for LBi, committed skeptics simply shifted to new pathologies. 

LARON SYNDROME 

As previously mentioned, Bill Jungers has aptly (if somewhat with 
tongue in cheek) called the assertions that LBi suffered from various 
diseases “sick-Hobbit hypotheses.” Curiously, each disease that has been 
proposed has been even less likely to explain LBi than its predecessors, 
as you will see by the end of this chapter. For example, after the micro- 
cephalic hypothesis lost favor, LBi was claimed to have suffered from 
another condition, called Laron syndrome (LS), which was named after 
its discoverer, Zvi Laron, who was also a coauthor on the paper that 
offered this diagnosis of LBi. 52 LS is characterized by an insensitivity to 
a form of primary growth hormone that, if untreated, leads to a distinct 
Laron-type dwarfism. Because the condition is usually treated today, 
the diagnosis of LBi was based on earlier records for untreated patients. 

For decades, ten skeletal features were repeatedly described in the 
clinical literature as typical for patients with untreated LS. These 
included a protruding forehead and short face with a pug nose. The 
lower jaw was underdeveloped, and the permanent teeth grew irregu- 
larly and were crowded. The circumference of the head was very small 
and, when viewed from the front, was widest near the top of the skull. 
Untreated patients with LS had short arms and legs compared with 
their trunks. In general, their long bones were delicate, and they had 
small hands and feet. 53 Laron noted, “From early childhood these chil- 
dren resembled each other; the main feature was a small face and man- 
dible, which gave a false impression of a large head.” 54 In addition to the 
ten features that were noted most frequently in the traditional clinical 
literature, Laron observed more recently that x-rays of the skulls of 
untreated LS patients have revealed thin bones and small sinuses. 55 

Then, at the end of 2004, along came Hobbit. 56 And in her wake, 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 153 


along came a new list of 33 “major diagnostic criteria” for patients with 
LS. The list, however, neglected to include six of the ten traditionally 
cited features (protruding forehead, pug nose, irregular and crowded 
permanent teeth, wide top of the skull, small hands and feet, and deli- 
cate long bones). 57 Of the 33 skeletal traits that newly characterize LS, 
32 are straight out of the published description for LBi and supposedly 
demonstrated “morphological similarity between individuals with LS 
and LBi.” 58 To wit, LBi didn’t represent a new species of hominin; rather, 
she was a Homo sapiens who had been afflicted with Laron syndrome! 

The paper suggesting that LBi was a pathological human with LS 
appeared during the summer of 2007, shortly before I flew to Yogya- 
karta, Java, to present evidence that LBi had not suffered from micro- 
cephaly at the International Seminar on Southeast Asian Paleoanthro- 
pology. With microcephaly losing credibility as an explanation for 
LBi’s unusual appearance, those who were skeptical of Homo floresiensis's 
legitimacy were ready to embrace LS as an alternative pathology. As I 
said in my talk, even less evidence exists to support the assertion that 
LBi suffered from LS than there is for the microcephalic hypothesis. 59 

Once again, we found ourselves distracted from our central interests 
in regard to our research because of controversy over Homo floresiensis. 
At this point, you might be asking, “Why not just get on with your own 
research and leave the sick-Hobbit hypotheses alone?” The problem 
with ignoring questionable evolutionary hypotheses is that doing so 
increases their viability, because nonscientists, religious fundamental- 
ists, and even some journalists are likely to take these hypotheses seri- 
ously until they are evaluated scientifically and, if warranted, rejected. 60 
In other words, debate moves science forward, so addressing controver- 
sial ideas becomes part of the package if one wants to contribute to our 
understanding of human evolution. 

Charles, Kirk, Fred, and I joined with an international group of col- 
leagues to assess from a scientific perspective the suggestion that LBi 
had LS, although our analysis was not published until a year and a half 
after the Indonesian seminar, partly because of a rocky (and paleo- 


K4 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


political) review process at the same journal in which the suggestion 
had originally been published. 61 The task was enormous, because we 
needed to analyze every bit of LBi’s considerable skeleton in light of the 
entire clinical literature on Laron syndrome, while paying particular 
attention to the 33 characteristics that supposedly indicated LBi had LS. 
We compared measurements, photographs, and images from x-rays and 
CT scans of LBi with as much relevant information as we could find in 
the scant literature for untreated patients with LS. 

Except for short stature, we concluded that LBi’s skeleton bore little 
resemblance to those of untreated patients with LS. Reiterating all of the 
details of our analysis is beyond the scope of this book, but I will sum- 
marize some of our more salient findings. 62 To begin with, LBi did not 
share the ten features that are traditionally diagnostic for LS. The shape 
and thickness of LBi’s skull and its brow ridges were all wrong (figure 
25). Plus her skull was widest at the bottom (not the top), and her face 
was comparatively large in relation to her skull. LBi’s jaw was developed 
rather than underdeveloped, and her teeth and chin were also completely 
atypical for LS. The relative size of LBi’s head was much smaller than that 
of LS patients — no false impression of a large head for her! 

Nor does the list of 33 “major diagnostic criteria” wash when it comes 
to LBi — or when it comes to Laron syndrome, for that matter. 63 In assess- 
ments of patients diagnosed with LS, two of the new criteria contra- 
dicted the earlier literature for LS: Instead of delicate long bones, the 
shaft of the upper bone of the arm (the humerus) was listed as “pro- 
nounced” in its thickness in patients with LS, and the thickness of their 
skulls was scored as “normal,” in contrast to earlier descriptions that 
the skull is very thin and the sinuses underdeveloped. 64 Skull thickness 
was also scored as “normal” for LBi, which was clearly off the mark. Not 
only were the bones of LBi’s skull much thicker than those of patients 
with LS; they also contained cavities filled with air (called air cells). 
Furthermore, LBi had a frontal sinus that was considerably larger than 
the “absent/undersized” ones of LS patients. 65 

We were also unable to confirm the suggestion that LBi resembled 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 155 



A B 

Figure 25. X-ray of the skull of an LS patient (A) compared with a CT image 
of LBi’s skull (B). The image for the LS patient has been enhanced with image 
adjustments for shadow and highlights, which reveal that the chin is not 
underdeveloped as claimed (Hershkovitz, Kornreich, and Laron 2008). Notice 
that the shapes and thicknesses of the two braincases differ dramatically, as 
do the sizes and configurations of the jaws and teeth. Created by Kirk Smith, 
Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology; reproduced from Falk, Hildebolt, et al., 
“Nonpathological asymmetry,” 2009. 


LS patients below the neck. We found no evidence in the traditional 
clinical literature that supports the assertions that skeletons of patients 
with LS manifest the shape features of LBi’s collar bones, shoulders, 
arms, hips, or legs. Nor were LBi’s long bones delicate or her hands and 
feet small. In fact, LBi’s little legs ended in amazingly long feet. 

Clearly, Hobbit had not suffered from Laron syndrome. However, the 
suggestion that she had was explicit and had testable components, which 
is how science ultimately progresses. We concluded our paper with a call 
for more testable hypotheses: “We understand the cognitive dissonance 
that the discovery of Homo floresiensis has created in some scientific cir- 
cles, and we encourage efforts to frame testable, alternative hypotheses 
to account for these surprising hominins .” 66 We wouldn’t have to wait 
long to continue our newfound research interest in clinical pathologies, 
because another sick-Hobbit hypothesis was already on the horizon! 



156 / Sick Hobbits , Quarrelsome Scientists 


CRETINISM 

Cretinism is a condition of stunted growth and mental retardation that 
result from a deficiency of thyroid hormone, which can occur for a vari- 
ety of reasons, including a diet that lacks enough iodine. Infants of moth- 
ers deficient in iodine are likely to be born with the condition. Children 
with cretinism have broad faces with flat noses. If untreated, they become 
smaller for their age as they grow up, which results in dwarfed adults. 
The condition can also develop in adults as a reaction to an underfunc- 
tioning thyroid gland (or its removal), which may be associated with an 
enlarged pituitary gland and, again, environmental factors such as too 
little iodine in the diet. The adult condition is called myxedematous 
cretinism (ME). Peter Obendorf, of the Royal Melbourne Institute of 
Technology, in Australia, and his colleagues suggested that LBi and the 
other hobbits were individuals with ME rather than a previously unrec- 
ognized species of Homo . 61 

The cretinism hypothesis is based on statistical analyses of various 
measurements from the skeletons of normal individuals, cretins, a few 
fossil hominins, and LBi. To its credit, this study rejected both micro- 
cephaly and Laron syndrome as explanations for LBi. It did not, how- 
ever, make a convincing case that LBi or, by extension, the other hobbits 
were cretins. One reason for this is that traits for LBi were repeatedly 
scored as resembling those of cretins, when, in fact, they did not. 68 For 
example, LBi was claimed to have had an enlarged pituitary gland on 
the basis of measurements taken from a published image of the bottom 
of LBi’s skull. However, the image (which came from one of my team’s 
papers) failed to reveal the dimensions of the bony hollow that contains 
the pituitary gland, because the area in question had been damaged. 69 
Furthermore, inspection of the 3D-CT data from near this region of 
LBi’s skull strongly suggests that the hollow for the pituitary was not 
enlarged. 

Similarly, LBi was erroneously scored as having other traits in com- 
mon with cretins, such as an opening between the bones of the top 
part of the skull (the anterior fontanelle), an absent frontal sinus, and 


Sick Hobbits , Quarrelsome Scientists / 157 


LB1 Swiss cretin 



Courtesy of Ortner 


Figure 2 6. Skeleton of LBi compared with the skeleton of a Swiss cretin. 
The skeletons differ dramatically in the shape, thickness, and relative size 
and proportion of their bones. The cretin’s skull is absolutely and relatively 
larger than LBi’s. Photograph of LBi provided by William Jungers, the State 
University of New York at Stony Brook; that of the Swiss cretin courtesy of 
Donald Ortner, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 


a flat nose. (LBi’s fontanelle was closed, she had a prominent frontal 
sinus, and her damaged nasal region could not be reliably scored.) LBi’s 
(and LB6’s) lower jaw and chin region were also mischaracterized, and 
one of LBi’s permanent teeth was incorrectly identified as a baby tooth. 
(Because Scooter was a practicing dentist for 15 years, this error really 
got his goat.) Nor were the parts of LBi’s skeleton that were below her 




158 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


neck assessed any more accurately. A more thorough critical analysis of 
the cretinism hypothesis is being conducted at the time of this writing. 70 
For the purposes of this book, it seems appropriate to allow a picture to 
be worth the proverbial thousand words (see figure 2 6). 

If nothing else, the suggestion that the Homo floresiensis remains were 
from cretins is imaginative. Because the cave in which all of the hob- 
bit remains were found is located inland on Flores and therefore away 
from coastal iodine-rich seafood, proponents of the cretin hypothesis 
have speculated that hobbits ate diets that were deficient in iodine. 
They have also suggested that hobbits ate other foods that might have 
contained harmful chemicals, such as cassava and bamboo, and that 
as young cretins they may have experienced “undernutrition arising 
from lack of mobility or estrangement, further decreasing their brain 
growth.” 71 Because the humans at Liang Bua were hunter-gatherers 
instead of agriculturalists, or so the story went, the limited mobility 
of the cretins led to their separation from the others, particularly the 
adult cretins. “Use of caves by adult cretins and lack of burial would 
explain the cretin remains . . . , while seasonal mobility, alternative shel- 
ters and systematic burial would explain the absence of the remains of 
normal individuals [in the cave].” 72 So the hominin remains from Liang 
Bua that were dated to 17,000 or more years ago were all from Homo 
sapiens cretins! Meanwhile, the majority of the population consisted of 
normal humans who systematically buried their (so-far-undiscovered) 
skeletons elsewhere on the island. Creative as it is, the suggestion that 
hobbits were cretins does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. 

BEYOND SICK-HOBBIT HYPOTHESES: 

THE TOOTH FILLING THAT WASN’T 

If Scooter was taken aback by the suggestion that one of LBi’s perma- 
nent teeth was really a baby tooth, he was incredulous at a more recent 
assertion made by Maciej Henneberg, who had been one of the first sci- 
entists to suggest that LBi was a microcephalic. 73 Although Henneberg 


Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists / 159 


had examined the remains of LBi when they were borrowed by the 
late Teuku Jacob in 2005, his startling assessment of her dentition was 
not made until later and, then, only from photographs. In April 2008, 
Henneberg claimed that LBi’s lower left first molar contained a man- 
made filling consisting of whitish cement rather than metal amalgam. 
The implication was that the filling was a temporary rather than a per- 
manent one and that it had been placed in LBi’s tooth by a dentist prac- 
ticing on Flores at some point during or since the 1930s. 74 As Scooter 
the-former-dentist put it: “Hmm. This means that LBi probably died 
within a year of receiving the filling, because temporaries don’t last much 
longer. Then, after she died, someone took her into the cave, dug a hole 
that was 19 feet deep, and buried her.” Henneberg’s conclusion was that 
Hobbit could not be 18,000 years old but, rather, was a pathological Homo 
sapiens who had lived recently. 

This provocative suggestion demanded scientific scrutiny. That scru- 
tiny came from Peter Brown, the lead author on one of the two original 
papers that announced Hobbit in Nature? 5 Brown recalled that he had 
“cleaned the teeth of LBi using brushes and soft probes, while wearing 
magi [magnifying] glasses. Grain-by-grain, it was a delicate and slow 
process. There was no filling in the crown of the mandibular left first 
molar, or any other teeth.” 76 Brown’s response includes numerous pho- 
tographs that illustrate the wear found on teeth in skeletal remains from 
archaeological sites of hunter-gatherers. His photographs and CT scans 
of Hobbit’s teeth make it clear that the purported temporary filling was 
nothing more than chalky-white dentine that is typical for teeth found 
in remains of hunter-gatherers from limestone caves. Another Hobbit 
skeptic, Alan Thorne, was quoted in the press as saying, “If it is a tooth 
that has been worked on [by a dentist], then the whole argument is gone, 
finished.” 77 But this logic can go both ways. As Brown concluded in his 
assessment of the so-called filling, “Of course the reverse should also be 
true. As the claim is a complete fabrication, without any substance, then 
there are implications for . . . credibility.” 78 

I doubt very much that anyone now takes the dental-filling hypoth- 


160 / Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists 


esis seriously, although some did when it first appeared. As science 
journalist Elizabeth Culotta reported, “Hobbit watcher John Hawks of 
the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says he was initially intrigued 
by Henneberg’s claim. ‘[The] hypothesis was reasonable based on the 
photos,’ he says. With Brown’s rebuttal, however, Hawks now considers 
the question ‘totally settled .’” 79 

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH 

Even though controversy about new hominin discoveries sometimes has 
a healthy impact on the direction of the field, the debate surrounding 
Hobbit has become quite bizarre. Her skeleton was at one point spirited 
away by disgruntled colleagues and eventually returned in a damaged 
state (which caused an international scandal); other doubters claimed 
to have an endocast of a microcephalic that looks identical to LBi’s, but 
when researchers indicated a desire to examine that specimen, the nay- 
sayers repeatedly refused to provide a correct location or museum num- 
ber (hence its existence is in doubt); and, as we just discussed, another 
colleague published a groundless claim that Hobbit had a dental fill- 
ing that proved she was a modern Homo sapiens. As I write this, another 
debate is emerging about Hobbit’s health. Rather than proposing a spe- 
cific diagnosis, however, Robert Eckhardt and Maciej Henneberg now 
claim that LBi’s skull is so asymmetrical that it must be a sign of some 
unspecified disease or developmental abnormality . 80 In response, we 
have documented the problems inherent in measuring skull asymmetry 
from two-dimensional photographs of LBi’s face (the basis for Eckhardt 
and Henneberg’s assertion) and provided evidence that LBi’s cranial 
asymmetry was due to distortion from the pressure of burial sediments 
in combination with normal skull shape asymmetries . 81 Other scientists 
have also rebutted Eckhardt and Henneberg’s claims . 82 As we continue 
to respond to new sick-Hobbit hypotheses, those of us who believe Homo 
floresiensis is a legitimate discovery are left pondering a huge mystery: 
Who were her ancestors, and where (and when) did they originate? 


EIGHT 


Whence Homo floresiensis ? 


The Queen: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works 
backward.” Lewis Carroll 

I would have been less surprised if someone had uncovered 
an alien. Peter Brown 


A few scientists continue to insist that Hobbit was a pathological human 
rather than a new species, but their numbers are dwindling. If Hobbit 
was simply a sick human, the malady she had is unknown to modern 
medicine. As Bill Jungers and Karen Baab, of Stony Brook University, 
put it, “There are no known sick humans that look like Homo floresiensis 
because no known illness reverses the evolutionary changes of a species. 
The hobbits therefore cannot be a diseased sub-population of healthy 
humans.” 1 This goes a long way toward explaining why most scientists 
now seem to accept that Homo floresiensis represents a legitimate, if sur- 
prising, new twig on the human family tree. 

In April 2009 at Stony Brook University, Richard Leakey hosted a 
public symposium sponsored by the Turkana Basin Institute and titled 
“Hobbits in the Haystack.” 2 This meeting brought together the discov- 
erers and other researchers who have analyzed the various parts of 
Hobbit’s skeleton. Remarkably, the nine speakers had independently 
arrived at the same conclusion, whether they had studied Hobbit’s anat- 
omy (brain, teeth, wrist, shoulder, and feet), associated artifacts, or the 
evidence related to sick-hobbit proposals. The consensus was that this 


161 


162 / Whence Homo floresiensis/ 1 


specimen of Homo floresiensis had a combination of primitive features 
throughout her tiny skeleton that harkened back to early Homo ( habilis ? 
ergaster} erectus}) or even to earlier australopithecines, who were thought 
to have lived exclusively in Africa. Yet Hobbit also had features that 
were unique. Clearly her kin had experienced a long period of isolation 
in which they had evolved into a distinct species. 

But where had hobbits come from and when, exactly, did they die 
out? Scientists are not the only ones who wonder about this. The public 
also seems to have an almost insatiable curiosity about Homo floresiensis, 
including villagers whose families have lived for centuries on Flores 
and who are keenly aware of the international excitement generated by 
the discovery. (Scooter and I know this firsthand from our visit to Flores 
in conjunction with the 2007 International Seminar on Southeast Asian 
Paleoanthropology. As we and our colleagues caravanned for several 
hours from village to village to get to Liang Bua, villagers enthusiasti- 
cally greeted us with flags and welcoming ceremonies.) LBi has a special 
significance for the people of Flores, not just because she was discovered 
there, but also because of folklore concerning a group of small, wild 
humans, the ebu gogo, who reputably once lived in a cave on the slope of 
a volcano called Ebulobo, in the Nage region of the island.’ 

Richard (Bert) Roberts, a coauthor of one of the two announcements 
of Homo floresiensis, heard about the ebu gogo from villagers during a visit 
to Flores in October 2004, right before the discovery was unveiled. 4 
Roberts was told that the ebu gogo were small, hairy people who had 
lived outside the village and were about Hobbit’s height, with long arms 
and fingers. They supposedly walked with an awkward gait and had 
potbellies and protruding ears. 5 The women reportedly had extremely 
pendulous breasts. Lore has it that the ebu gogo murmured softly to one 
another and parroted back phrases that were spoken to them by the 
ancestors of today’s villagers, such as “Here’s some food.” The name ebu 
gogo means “grandmother who eats anything,” which seems apt, since 
a village elder told Roberts that they “ate everything raw, including 
vegetables, fruits, meat, and, if they got the chance, even human meat.” 


Whence Homo floresiensis? / 163 


When food was served to them they also ate the plates, which were 
made of pumpkin. 6 

According to numerous accounts, the ebu gogo became extinct around 
200 years ago. 7 The stories about their demise vary but share a com- 
mon thread. 8 Apparently the ancestors of today’s inhabitants of Flores 
were irritated because the ebu gogo periodically raided their crops and 
animals. Nevertheless, they tried to get along with their little neighbors 
by making kind gestures, such as bringing them cooked food. Although 
they took the food, the ebu gogo reportedly responded rudely and con- 
tinued to be troublesome. As the story goes, one day they stole a baby, 
and in some reports they ate it. In retaliation, the ancestors traveled 
to the ebu gogo' s cave and set it on fire. According to Gregory Forth, of 
the University of Alberta, who did ethnographic research in the Nage 
region of Flores long before Homo floresiensis was discovered, the ances- 
tors killed the ebu gogo by trapping them inside a cave and setting fire 
to palm fiber that they had given their neighbors to use as clothing. 9 
Depending on the particular version of the legend, one or two ebu gogo 
may have survived the fire. 

After the discovery of Homo floresiensis, new rumors emerged among 
the villagers of Flores that the ebu gogo might still exist within pockets 
of the island’s rainforest. 10 Wishful thinking? Probably. Nevertheless, 
Forth points out that the many tales he has heard on Flores about ebu 
gogo have a ring of truth to them because of their details and matter-of- 
fact portrayals. Whether or not the ebu gogo actually existed and, if so, 
whether they had any evolutionary relationship with Homo floresiensis, as 
some have suggested, remain as tantalizing unanswered questions — at 
least for now. 

Meanwhile, the researchers who believe that the new species is a 
previously unrecognized hominin are currently focusing on two ques- 
tions that go back to a time hundreds of thousands of years before the 
ebu gogo were supposedly raiding crops on Flores: Where did Homo flo- 
resiensis’ s ancestors come from? And what (or who) did they look like? 
Were Flobbit’s ancestors small like australopithecines when they first 


Million Years Ago (ma) 


Present 


LB1 ( 18 , 000 ) 



Whence Homo floresiensis? / 165 


Figure 27 (opposite). Skeleton keys. Ten relatively complete early hominin 
skeletons can be compared with LBi. The australopithecines (represented 
here by Lucy, Little Foot, Dikika, Kadanuumuu, MHi, and MH2) were short 
individuals with apelike body builds; WT 15K, a Homo erectus specimen from 
Kenya, had a taller body that was proportioned more like modern humans. 
The Dmanisi fossils were medium-statured individuals with relatively mod- 
ern limb proportions, similar to WT 15K. Australopithecus is known only from 
Africa, where it partly overlapped in time with more recent Homo habilis (OH 
62). By around 1.8 million years ago, variants of Homo erectus had appeared 
outside Africa in Dmanisi, Eurasia; and in Java, Indonesia. Remains of small- 
statured, relatively apelike Homo floresiensis, from 95,000 to 17,000 years ago, 
were unearthed on Flores (LBi). There is debate about whether their direct 
ancestor was Homo erectus. Graph by Martin Young. 


got to the island of Flores at some unknown time before 1 million years 
ago? Or were they larger-bodied like Homo erectus , with their descen- 
dants eventually becoming more diminutive? 11 

In order to address these questions we must compare the remains of 
Homo floresiensis with those from other hominins, some of whom lived 
millions of years ago. Figure 27 provides a simplified “big picture” 
that captures geographical and temporal information about the fossils 
that are most relevant for interpreting Homo floresiensis } 2 Paleoanthro- 
pologists known as “splitters” envision bushy hominin family trees that 
have many branches (species). “Lumpers,” on the other hand, tend to 
interpret differences between individual fossils as representing varia- 
tion within rather than between species, so their family trees are more 
heavily pruned. Both approaches are useful, depending on one’s objec- 
tives. For the sake of this discussion, however, my chart focuses on large 
groups that contain specimens that others sometimes split into differ- 
ent species. For example, some paleoanthropologists assign the species 
Homo ergasterto a subset of the specimens that I have included in African 
Homo erectus. These scientists may or may not be right that the group of 
fossils that lumpers have assigned to African Homo erectus really contains 


1 66 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


more than one species (which is a fascinating problem), but for thinking 
about Hobbit’s origins this lumpers’ chart is fine. 

The oldest group on the chart represents Australopithecus, the genus 
that Raymond Dart named in 1925. 13 This group is not confined to Dart’s 
one species (Australopithecus africanus), however, but subsumes numerous 
others that have since been discovered, such as Australopithecus afarensis 
(Lucy’s species). All recognized australopithecines were from Africa. As 
detailed below, they tended to be small with apelike body proportions 
and, to a greater or lesser degree depending on the species, retained 
their ancestors’ habit of spending time in trees. The australopithecines 
were also at home on the ground, where they moved bipedally. 

Homo hahilis is a problem, because it seems to be something of a grab 
bag that contained too much variation to truly represent only one spe- 
cies. 14 (Here, the splitters are right.) The specimens that were initially 
assigned to this species all came from Africa (originally, Olduvai Gorge, 
in Tanzania), and they may be divided into those who looked a whole 
lot like Australopithecus (e.g., OH 62, described below) and others who 
resembled Homo erectus from Africa (e.g., a little skull from Kenya with 
the museum number of KNM-ER 1813). Even so, some paleoanthropolo- 
gists believe that certain fossils should be removed from Homo hahilis 
but think that the type specimen for this group (OH 7) and a few others 
constitute a valid species. 15 

Compared with the australopithecines, Homo erectus from Africa was 
taller and had a larger body with more humanlike proportions and a 
medium-sized brain. Bipedalism was more refined and habitual in this 
species than in the australopithecines, and it probably spent less (if any) 
time in trees. Small chewing teeth implied that the African form of 
Homo erectus either ate different food from that of australopithecines or 
that it consumed the same food but was cutting and softening it with 
stone tools, or cooking it, or both. 16 Homo erectus from Africa may have 
been less specialized in some of the details of its cranial vaults and teeth 
than the Asian variants. 17 

Genetic studies suggest that hominins originated in Africa between 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 167 


5 million and 7 million years ago, and scientists believe they were con- 
fined to that continent until around 2 million years ago. When some of 
them eventually left Africa, they appear to have spread to certain parts 
of the world rather quickly, because their bones and tools have been 
discovered from around 1.8 million years ago in Eurasia and Indonesia 
and from 1.7 million years ago in China. (Europe seems to have been 
colonized more recently.) The earliest fossils that were geographically 
closest to Africa were unearthed in the Caucasus region of Eurasia 
beneath a medieval castle in Dmanisi, in the Republic of Georgia. 18 
As detailed below, these fossils (accepted here as a Eurasian variant of 
Homo erectus) reveal a perplexing combination of features that, gener- 
ally speaking, were transitional between those of australopithecines 
and early Homo. 

By the time these hominins were living at Dmanisi, another Homo 
erectus population had settled on the island ofjava, in Indonesia. Appar- 
ently, these hominins were very successful, because their descendants 
are believed to have survived until quite recently on Java. 1 " Like their 
African relatives, the hominins who lived in java are thought to have had 
modern-humanlike limb proportions, which are associated with upright 
posture and habitual bipedalism. They are known especially for their 
long, low cranial vaults, which were comparatively thick. Recall, also, 
that the Asian forms of Homo erectus have been of particular interest in the 
discussions about whether or not Homo floresiensis was an insular dwarf 

Anatomically modern Homo sapiens appeared around 200,000 years 
ago in Africa, and more recent representatives have been recovered from 
all continents except Antarctica. 20 These specimens were big-brained 
and looked essentially like us. They had rounded skulls with vertical 
foreheads and faces and small brow ridges. Their faces and teeth were 
small compared with those of their predecessors, and they had true 
chins. Homo sapiens was also built more lightly below the neck. 

As you know, Homo floresiensis remains were recovered on Flores from 
strata that dated between 95,000 and 17,000 years ago, and stone tools 
from the island go back to before 1 million years ago. Fortunately, the 


168 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


type specimen of Homo floresiensis (LBi) was a relatively complete skel- 
eton. With the above as background, we can now discuss the evolution- 
ary history of Homo floresiensis. 

SKELETON KEYS 

A crucial step for exploring the evolutionary history of Homo floresien- 
sis is to compare the overall appearance of its body and its inferred 
behaviors with those of other prehistoric hominins. However, there are 
at least two hitches to this process. The first is that the most valuable 
information comes from relatively complete skeletons, and discover- 
ies of hominins that are well represented both above and below the 
neck are extremely rare. These finds are especially prized, because 
they provide integrated information about a species’ overall physical 
appearance, brain size, diet, and even the rates at which they grew up 
(from teeth) and how they moved about in their environments. As we 
have seen, a second problem is that researchers often disagree about the 
identification of the species, and sometimes even the genus, of these 
key skeletons. Needless to say, even if experts manage to agree that 
LBi looks most like Skeleton X, lack of consensus about the species (or 
genus) to which that skeleton belongs adds to the difficulty of disentan- 
gling Homo floresiensis' ’s evolutionary roots. 21 

Whatever preference one has for his or her species names, it is worth 
reviewing the ten relatively complete hominin skeletons that can be 
compared with Hobbit’s (figure 27). One of the earliest is the famous 
fossil that was nicknamed Lucy (AL 288-1), from approximately 3.2 mil- 
lion years ago in Ethiopia. 22 Discovered by Donald Johanson and Tom 
Gray in 1974, Lucy’s partial skeleton was from an adult female who was 
assigned to a new species of australopithecine, Australopithecus afarensis. 
Her remains consisted of cranial fragments, a lower jaw, and parts of her 
arms, rib cage, pelvis, and legs. AL 288-1 also had a bit of shoulder and 
some fragments of one hand. In other words, enough of Lucy’s skeleton 
was found for us to have a fairly good idea of what her species looked like. 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 169 


Because of its relative completeness, Lucy’s skeleton has provided the 
basic model for the body build of nonrobust australopithecines: 23 She 
stood about three and a half feet tall, and as far as one can tell from the 
cranial fragments and other remains attributed to her species, her cra- 
nial capacity and relative brain size were within the range for modern 
chimpanzees. AL 288-1 had apelike body proportions that included very 
short legs and relatively long arms. Although she was clearly capable of 
walking bipedally, the form of her shoulder and hands suggests to most 
workers that she spent time climbing and moving through trees. 

These hints from Lucy have been verified and added to by the recent 
discovery of an even more complete skeleton from an infant Australo- 
pithecus afarensis who lived in Ethiopia around 100,000 years before 
Lucy. 24 Numbered DIK-1-1 and nicknamed the Dikika baby, this beauti- 
ful little skeleton was discovered by a team that was led by Zeresenay 
Alemseged about six miles from where Lucy was recovered. Unlike 
Lucy’s remains, the skeleton of this baby has a face, much more of her 
hands, a hyoid bone from the throat, and a foot. Dikika’s brain size was 
comparable to that of a similarly aged chimpanzee, and her hyoid bone 
also appears apelike rather than humanlike. She had a long face with a 
flat nose. The shape of her shoulder resembled that of a young gorilla, 
and her fingers were almost as long and curved as a chimpanzee’s, both 
of which reinforce the idea that Australopithecus afarensis could climb trees. 
Nevertheless, the baby’s knee, legs, and foot showed that she walked on 
two legs. As Zeresenay put it, “I see A. afarensis as foraging bipeds but 
climbing trees when necessary, especially when they were little.” 25 

The sample of Australopithecus afarensis partial skeletons recently grew 
with the announcement of a headless adult male A. afarensis th at was dis- 
covered by Alemayehu Asfaw in the same part of Ethiopia where Lucy 
and the Dikika baby had lived. 26 Dated to 3.6 million years, the bipedal 
specimen (designated KDS-VP-1/1) was significantly larger than Lucy, 
which explains its nickname Kadanuumuu, which means “big man” in 
the local language. 27 The specimen’s size suggests that males may have 
been larger than females to a greater degree than in modem humans. 


170 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


Although Kadanuumuu’s pelvis, arm, and upward-turned shoulder 
socket are typical for his species, the limb bones are too fragmentary to 
say much about his body proportions. 28 

Another stunning australopithecine skeleton was discovered deep 
within a cave at Sterkfontein, South Africa, by the paleoanthropologist 
Ron Clarke, who is still extricating the specimen from its rocky encase- 
ment (figure 28). Clarke, who has an extraordinary gift for reading 
bones, which is facilitated by a photographic memory, initially discov- 
ered four bones of the left foot in material that had been brought into his 
laboratory. This caused him to organize a search for other parts of the 
individual in the enormous dark cave that produced the foot bones. In 
a needle-in-the-haystack story that rivals Eugene Dubois’s discovery of 
Pithecanthropus erectus (discussed in chapter 9), other bits of the skeleton 
were discovered protruding from the rocky floor in which the speci- 
men had become embedded. 29 I had the pleasure of visiting this fossil 
(StWj73), nicknamed Little Foot, when I traveled to the archives at the 
University of Witwatersrand in 2008 to study Raymond Dart’s papers, 
and can attest that a very deep, dark (headlamps recommended), and 
steep descent is involved in reaching the skeleton, which is 82 feet below 
the surface. 

Little Foot lived about 3.3 million years ago, at approximately the 
same time as the Dikika baby and Lucy. Enough of the skeleton has 
come to light to add to our knowledge about the body builds of aus- 
tralopithecines. 30 Clarke estimates that Little Foot was probably about 
four feet tall. Unlike apes or humans, it had arms and legs that were 
approximately equal in length. Remarkably, the foot shows a mixed 
pattern of a humanlike heel with an apelike divergent big toe that was 
strongly mobile. Partly for these reasons, Clarke thinks that StWj73 did 
not belong to either Australopithecus afarensis or A. africanus but to another 
as yet unnamed species of Australopithecus , 31 

Little Foot’s anatomy combined features of an ape’s arboreal foot 
and a human’s bipedal foot, which suggests to Clarke that “change from 
one form to the other developed in a mosaic evolutionary fashion.” 32 In 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 171 



Figure 28. Ron Clarke deep in the cave at Sterkfontein with part of the aus- 
tralopithecine skeleton he discovered, which is known as Little Foot. Photo- 
graph by Dean Falk. 


other words, evolutionary changes in the heel preceded those in the big 
toe. For its part, Little Foot’s hand does not reveal features associated 
with apelike knuckle-walking. Similar to apes’ (and the Dikika baby’s), 
however, the hand had curved finger bones, which were probably used 
for climbing in trees. Like the Dikika baby, living at the same time to 
the north, Little Foot was bipedal but not to the extent that humans are. 
This suggests that Australopithecus was probably as comfortable climbing 
in trees as walking on the ground. 33 

Two partial skeletons from the South African site of Malapa were 
recently described by Lee Berger and his colleagues. 34 These speci- 
mens (MHi and MH2 in figure 27) have been assigned to a new austral- 
opithecine species (Australopithecus sediba) and are especially exciting 
because of their surprisingly recent date of about 1.9 million years and 


172 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


their unique suite of features. The more complete of the two speci- 
mens, MHi, includes a cranium and is from a juvenile male estimated 
to be 11 to 13 years old. MH2 represents a less complete adult female. 
These small skeletons have the basic australopithecine pattern of rela- 
tively long arms, upward-turned shoulder sockets, and bodies built for 
bipedalism. Berger believes Australopithecus sediba was descended from 
Australopithecus africanus and that it was a late survivor of the species 
that gave rise to early Homo. Although Berger’s fossils received high 
praise from colleagues, many are skeptical about the suggestion that 
they belonged to a species that was directly ancestral to Homo , 3S Never- 
theless, Berger’s hypothesis must be given serious consideration, be- 
cause the two partial skeletons reveal a number of advanced features 
that appear more similar to early Homo than to earlier australopith- 
ecines, including a shortened lower pelvis, smaller teeth, longer legs, 
and a thinner lower jaw. 

There is another partial but very fragmentary skeleton from Olduvai 
Gorge (numbered OH 62) that seems to have shared the same short 
stature, apelike limb proportions, and inferred movement patterns as 
those of Lucy and the Dikika baby. 36 For this reason, the specimen was 
nicknamed Lucy’s Child. However, with a date of 1.8 million years ago, 
OH 62 lived almost 1.5 million years more recently than its “mother.” 
Although the little skeleton was initially placed in Homo hahilis rather 
than Australopithecus , 37 its limb proportions and probable movement pat- 
terns suggest that it should be reassigned to Australopithecus , 38 

The hominins represented by these seven more or less complete skel- 
etons lived in Africa between 3.6 million and 1.8 million years ago. Other 
more fragmentary remains of Australopithecus stretch back to around 
4.5 million years. 39 Although the teeth of the different Australopithecus 
species varied depending on their particular dietary adaptations, these 
treasured skeletons show that little hominins with nonhuman (and in 
some cases apelike) body proportions enjoyed a long and successful 
existence across a large portion of Africa. It is fascinating that these 
petite “man-apes” (as Dart called them) had both legs and feet that were 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 173 


beginning to develop some of the advanced features associated with 
bipedal walking and an upper limb anatomy that permitted them to con- 
tinue their ancestors’ habit of climbing in trees. As such, they were likely 
part-time, rather than full-time, bipeds. 

HOMININS OF ANOTHER ILK 

The earliest surefire signs of habitual walking appeared in a relatively 
complete skeleton of a boy who lived near Lake Turkana, in Narioko- 
tome, Kenya, around 1.6 million years ago. 40 The specimen, numbered 
KNM-WT 15000, has a multitude of nicknames, including “Narioko- 
tome,” “Turkana Lad,” “the Strapping Youth,” or simply “WT 15K.” 
Announced in 1985, this skeleton startled paleoanthropologists because 
it was so radically different from the little, apelike australopithecines. 
At around 5 feet 3 inches, WT 15K was considerably taller. The lad died 
when he was about eight years old, and scientists estimate he would 
have grown to be around 5 feet 11 inches tall had he lived to adulthood. 41 
Also, his body proportions were like those of modern people, although 
the anatomy of his shoulder appears somewhat less advanced than ours. 
In other words, he lacked arboreal features, and his legs were long and 
shaped like ours — perfect for hiking out of Africa and colonizing the 
world! As noted by Ian Tattersall, of the American Museum of Natural 
History, “He was long-limbed and slender, with efficient heat-shedding 
proportions that would have served him well in the heat of the open 
tropical savanna.” 42 

The boy from Kenya also had modern human-sized chewing teeth 
and an estimated adult cranial capacity of around 900 cm 3 , which is 
double the average for australopithecines. 43 Clearly, this skeleton repre- 
sents something that was very different from Lucy’s little, short-legged, 
long-armed “child,” who lived just a bit earlier than WT 15K. At the 
time the discovery was announced, the youth was identified as an Afri- 
can (rather than an Asian) representative of Homo erectus , 44 Today, this 
designation is still accepted by lumpers, although some splitters prefer 


174 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


to place WT 15K and other fragmentary specimens that resemble it in 
another species, Homo ergaster (“worker man ”). 45 1 tend to view WT 15K 
as an early African variant of Homo erectus that had small chewing teeth 
and a less specialized cranium than his Asian cousins who were discov- 
ered in 1891 on the island ofjava by Eugene Dubois. 46 

The Homo erectus fossils from Java have been of particular interest 
in the discussions about Homo floresiensis, because the individuals they 
represent may have lived as long ago as 1.8 million years just a couple of 
islands away from Flores. There is also some indication that Homo erectus 
may have survived on Java until as recently as 27,000 years ago, well 
after the arrival of Homo sapiens in the region. 47 This means that Homo 
erectus was in Java at the time the oldest known stone tools were being 
produced on Flores. 48 

Unfortunately, little is known about the general body build of Homo 
erectus from Java, even though Dubois believed that a modern-looking 
femur and a very primitive-looking Pithecanthropus skullcap (Trinil 2) 
were from the same individual. Doubt was cast on this suggestion in 1932, 
however, when fragments from four other Pithecanthropus femurs started 
turning up in the materials that Dubois had collected. Science writer Pat 
Shipman’s comments about this are particularly intriguing: 

Dubois argued that the new bones were from other individuals, now repre- 
sented by two new but incomplete left femurs and two new but also incom- 
plete right femurs. More to the point, all betrayed the very same features 
that had initially convinced Dubois that the femur of P.e. [Pithecanthropus 
erectus] was distinctly different from that of Man. These anatomical differences, 
he hypothesized, were due to a more tree-climbing habit in P.e., although its primary 
means of movement was walking upright on the ground * 9 [emphasis mine] 

Although WT 15K, from Africa, lacked specializations associated with 
spending time in trees (except, perhaps, a sturdy shoulder), more infor- 
mation is needed to be sure about his cousins from Indonesia. What we 
need, of course, is a relatively complete Homo erectus skeleton from Java. 
Unfortunately, one has yet to turn up. 

Fossilized skeletons are few and far between, but they tell a lot. As 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 175 


we have seen, short, bipedal australopithecines with apelike body pro- 
portions and a habit of climbing in trees lived in Africa between at 
least 3.6 million (Kadanuumuu) and 1.8 million years ago (OH 62), and 
probably a lot earlier. 50 The relatively complete skeleton of WT 15 K 
confirms that a species of early African Homo had evolved bigger brains, 
humanlike limb proportions, and habitual bipedalism by 1.6 million 
years ago. 51 Furthermore, hominins with these two dramatically differ- 
ent body builds and distinctive types of bipedalism are highly likely to 
have coexisted in Africa for some as-yet-undetermined length of time. 52 
A basic tenet of paleoanthropology is that australopithecines became 
extinct without ever having left Africa. Instead, long-legged early Homo, 
such as the Nariokotome lad, was supposed to have been the hominin 
who first walked out of Africa to colonize other parts of the world. 

DMANISI: A SURPRISE FROM EURASIA 

The classic assumption about early Homo first colonizing the world is 
now being questioned because of the discovery of perplexing fossils 
dated at 1.77 million years ago from outside Africa. As noted, the speci- 
mens were unearthed at the site of Dmanisi, in the Republic of Georgia, 
and share features with both the australopithecines and early Homo P For 
example, four Dmanisi individuals had cranial capacities that ranged 
between 600 cm 3 and 780 cm 3 . These volumes are larger than those 
for any known australopithecine but smaller than the approximately 
900 cm 3 volume of WT 15K and some of the other African skulls that 
have been attributed to early Homo. 

The Dmanisi skulls possess an unusual mixture of other features. 
Constriction behind the eye sockets, a smallish face beneath a mod- 
erately thick brow ridge, and a rounded back end of the cranium are 
primitive features that the Dmanisi fossils have in common with the 
fossils of Homo habilis from East Africa. 54 Other features of the Dmanisi 
crania are more suggestive of African (and, to a lesser extent, Asian) 
Homo erectus , ss These include the overall shape of the skulls and thick- 


176 / Whence Homo floresiensis? 1 


ened strips (keeling) that run along the midline at the top. The nasal 
bones and bony bulges behind the ear (mastoid processes) are also 
shaped like those of Homo erectus. Most measurements of the teeth also 
align the Dmanisi specimens with Homo erectus. Interestingly, other 
characteristics seem to be unique in the Dmanisi hominins, such as two 
separate keels along the top of the cranium. 

This hodgepodge of traits led to a disagreement about the species 
identification for the Dmanisi fossils, with some scientists placing them 
in early Homo erectus , Homo ergaster, or even a new species, Homo georgicus . 56 
What was needed to help clarify the nature of the Dmanisi hominins, 
of course, was a partial skeleton to compare with the little, apelike aus- 
tralopithecines and the remains of taller, leggier African Homo erectus. 
Happily, such a skeleton was described in September 2007 by David 
Lordkipanidze, of the Georgian National Museum, and his colleagues. 57 
The skeleton was from an adolescent who was several years older than 
the Homo erectus boy (WT 15K). As a bonus, the discovery also included 
various postcranial bones (that is, from below the head) of three other 
individuals. 

The cranial capacity of the adolescent had been estimated earlier 
(from skull D2700) at approximately 600 cm 3 , and the newly described 
postcrania that go with this skull suggest that he or she (the sex is 
unclear) was around five feet tall, compared with WT iyK’s approxi- 
mate five feet three inches. ss Although the youth’s cranial capacity is the 
smallest among the Dmanisi specimens, the individual was probably 
very nearly the size of an adult when he or she died. (This is consistent 
with another fragmentary skeleton from Dmanisi that was estimated 
to be just slightly taller than this youth.) Even so, this small capacity 
indicates that brain size at Dmanisi had increased by at least a third 
beyond the australopithecine average of 450 cm 3 . However, the post- 
cranial remains had also increased in size, which suggests that relative 
brain size was smaller than that of the bigger-brained and somewhat 
taller boy from Kenya (Nariokotome). 59 Although not much can be said 
about the cognitive abilities of the Dmanisi hominins, it is worth not- 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 177 


ing that more than a thousand artifacts recovered at the site resemble 
early African stone tools dated to about 2.6 million years ago as well as 
the classic 1.9 million- to 1. 6-million-year-old Oldowan tools that were 
found in association with australopithecines and Homo hahilis at Olduvai 
Gorge. 60 The Dmanisi tools were made of local basalt and consist of 
“rare choppers, chopping tools, a few scrapers, and numerous flakes.” 61 

Significantly, despite its small stature and small brain (compared with 
WT iyK’s brain of nearly 900 cm 3 ), the Dmanisi youth had arms and legs 
that were proportioned like those of WT 15K and living people, rather 
than like australopithecines and the OH 62 partial skeleton attributed to 
Homo hahilis (but believed by some, including me, to have actually been 
an australopithecine). The other Dmanisi fossils suggest that, like WT 
15K, these hominins walked with a spring in their step (good arches) 
and had humanlike nongrasping big toes that were lined up alongside 
the other toes. The Dmanisi hominins also shared WT iyK’s primitive 
(more australopithecine-like) upper-arm anatomy. 62 

A relatively long leg (in the Dmanisi youth of nearly 1.8 million years 
ago) may, thus, have preceded a relatively enlarged brain (in WT 15K of 
1.6 million years ago) during the evolution of early Homo. Or perhaps not. 
An incredible amount of variation exists in the fossil record of between 
1.8 million and 1.5 million years ago (some of which may have been due 
to differences in the sizes of males and females), which must be taken 
into account when interpreting the relatively small cranial capacities 
observed at Dmanisi. This requirement is underscored by the recent 
discovery of a 1.55-million-year-old Homo erectus skull (KNM-ER 42700) 
from Koobi Fora, Kenya, that surprisingly has some of the more derived 
(advanced) classic Asian Homo erectus features. 63 The skull’s cranial capac- 
ity of 691 cm 3 is not that much larger than the Dmanisi youth’s. It is also 
worth noting that cranial capacities varying from 790 to 2,350 cm 3 have 
been reported for normally functioning modern humans! 64 We have no 
reason to assume, without justification, that cranial capacity was not 
also highly variable for prehistoric hominins — especially if the males 
were considerably larger-bodied than the females. 


178 / Whence Homo floresiensisf 


So who were these transitional-looking hominins from Dmanisi? 
Philip Rightmire, an expert on Homo erectus from Binghamton Uni- 
versity, has pondered this question. 65 Rightmire and his colleagues 
noted that the populations of Homo erectus that lived in Africa, Java, and 
China between 1.8 million and 1.6 million years ago had slightly different 
combinations of features in their teeth and skulls, as did the Dmanisi 
hominins who lived in the Caucasus. Rightmire believes all of these 
populations derived from one widespread and highly varied species of 
Homo. Dmanisi hominins, he has suggested, may have been primitive 
enough to warrant recognition as a separate subspecies, Homo erectus geor- 
gicus, which could have been ancestral to the others: “One [possibility] is 
that an early Homo population dispersed from Africa into the Caucasus, 
where it then evolved the Dmanisi bauplan. Many of the characters dis- 
played by the Dmanisi skulls . . . [are] consistent with viewing the Dma- 
nisi population as ancestral to other H. erectus showing more advanced 
morphology.” 66 

In an iconoclastic twist, Rightmire and his colleagues also raised the 
possibility that the Dmanisi hominins might have originated in Eurasia 
and that some of them could then have migrated to Africa, where they 
evolved into the African subspecies Homo erectus ergaster (like WT 15K). 
This sequence of events reverses the standard textbook assumption that 
early Homo originated in Africa and then spread out to other parts of 
the world. Although traditionalists would take exception to this model, 
many agree that the Dmanisi hominins were probably close to the stem 
of early Homo. Ian Tattersall, for example, has observed that the Dmanisi 
population most plausibly represented an early departure “from Africa, 
hard on the heels of the origin of Homo as (probably) best defined by 
essentially modern postcranial form.” 67 

What is important in all of this can be gleaned from the ten partial 
skeletons we just surveyed. In my opinion, seven of these hominins that 
lived in Africa between 3.6 million and 1.8 million years ago were little 
things who had not yet evolved the long legs and modern body propor- 
tions that are indicative of habitual bipedalism (Kadanuumuu, Lucy, 


Whence Homo floresiensis. ? / 179 


the Dikika baby, Little Foot, MHi, MH2, and OH 62). 68 It is quite likely 
that these hominins were in the process of evolving a more fluid kind of 
walking but still spent time in trees. I am also among those who think 
that all seven of these skeletons are from australopithecines. The skel- 
etons of the three remaining hominins who lived between 1.8 million 
and 1.6 million years ago are another kettle of fish. The Dmanisi fos- 
sils and WT 17K come from hominins who had long legs and relatively 
modern body proportions. They were not australopithecines but rather 
early variants of Homo erectus. The relatively primitive Dmanisi remains 
are the only ones (of the ten) found outside Africa. 

WHO DID HOBBIT LOOK LIKE? 

With these ten partial skeletons in mind, we can now take a closer look 
at Hobbit by focusing on LBi’s skeleton (see figure 26). Scientists have 
had less than a decade to study it, and the picture that is emerging is 
astonishing and a bit perplexing. In fact, to say that the discovery of 
Homo floresiensis has shaken the very foundations of paleoanthropology 
is not an exaggeration. 69 

Nothing like LBi’s skeleton has been seen before in the hominin fos- 
sil record. She is unique from head to toe. What is intriguing, however, 
is that a number of her most distinctive features did appear in other 
hominin species, although not with her peculiar combination of fea- 
tures. This is what has paleoanthropologists buzzing. Take, for example, 
the overall shape of Hobbit’s endocast, which appears similar to those 
from Asian Homo erectus because it has a long and low profile, is much 
wider at the back than the front, and is wider at the bottom rather than 
nearer the top of the cerebral cortex. 70 However, the length and shape 
of the bottom of Hobbit’s frontal lobes and the size of her brain com- 
pared with her body mass are closest to the measurements obtained for 
Australopithecus africanusJ 1 

Certain features of LBi’s skull reinforce its similarity with Homo erec- 
tus: Although LBi’s braincase is tiny, its walls are extremely thick and 


i8o / Whence Homo floresiensis? 


honeycombed in places with air bubbles. 72 It is very thick, like those of 
the larger-skulled Homo erectus specimens (especially those from Asia) 
rather than resembling the smaller but thinner skulls of Australopithecus 
or the larger and thinner ones of Homo sapiens , 73 LBi’s skull also has a 
prominent brow ridge. Anthropologists who have compared external 
measurements of Hobbit’s skull with measurements from skulls of thou- 
sands of humans from around the world and from 30 various fossil homi- 
nins have concluded that the skull of Homo floresiensis is closer to those 
of the Homo erectus fossils but resembles the skulls of KNM-ER 1813 and 
OH 24 from Africa (which they include in Homo habilis) to a slightly 
lesser extent. 74 

The jaws and teeth of Homo floresiensis tell a different story, according 
to Peter Brown and Tomoko Maeda, of the University of New England, 
in Australia. 75 Similarly to Homo erectus ’s, the size of the molars is reduced 
compared with those of australopithecines and earlier Homo. However, 
the opposite is true for several other traits. The lower jaws from LBi 
and another specimen (LB6) do not look like those from Homo erectus, 
because they contain primitive-looking premolars (with double roots) 
and lack true chins. The inside of the front ends of the lower jaws has 
a little ledge that was typical for australopithecines and found also in 
early Homo but not in Homo erectus. Interestingly, the form of the teeth 
and their wear patterns are consistent with a tough, fibrous diet that 
required a lot of chewing, as the raw meat that Hobbit may have eaten 
would have. These jaws are distinctive. 

Because LBi’s skeleton is so complete, the size and general shape of 
her body could be reconstructed with confidence (figure 29). Her esti- 
mated weight of around 72 pounds falls within the range for modern 
pygmies from Africa and Asia, but her body shape was markedly differ- 
ent. As described by Bill Jungers and his colleagues, Hobbit’s legs were 
shorter than those of even the shortest living pygmies, but the lengths of 
her arms were comparable to theirs. 76 This means that LBi had arms that 
were extraordinarily long compared with her legs, similar to those of the 
famous australopithecine Lucy. The top part of her pelvis, near the hip, 



Figure 29. Paleoanthro- 
pologist Bill Jungers with 
a full-body reconstruction 
of LBi, by the Parisian 
paleoartist Elisabeth 
Daynes. Bill is 6'4"; LBi 
was about 3 '6". Photograph 
courtesy of Sebastien 
Plailly/Elisabeth Daynes. 




182 / Whence Homo floresiensis. ? 


was also shaped like Lucy’s. Put another way, unlike long-legged Homo 
erectus, Hobbit had “very, very short legs, both absolutely and relatively .” 77 

LBi’s height of approximately three feet six inches fell far short of 
the averages for pygmies . 78 This means that hobbits had more mass 
packed on their tiny frames than modern people who weigh about the 
same. They were just plain stockier. The bony shoulder of Homo flo- 
resiensis also shared some primitive features with Australopithecus and 
early Homo (including the Dmanisi youth and WT iyK), which resulted 
in upper arms that were rotated a bit forward where they fit into the 
shoulder girdle compared with the configuration in living people (see 
figure 2 6). 1 “ Hobbit’s wrists were also primitive, so much so that the few 
wrist bones that are available in LBi’s skeleton resemble the same bones 
of African apes and very early hominins rather than those from more 
recent humans . 80 

Even though the most controversial part of LBi’s anatomy has been 
her tiny brain, I find the most tantalizing part of her skeleton to be at the 
other end of her body. Hobbit had the most amazing feet . 81 Compared 
with her diminutive legs, LBi’s feet were considerably longer than those 
of any other hominin — living or dead. To be as long, your foot would 
have to stretch from your knee to your ankle ! 82 In this regard, LBi’s 
foot was somewhat chimplike. Like those of bipedal hominins, however, 
LBi’s big toe was lined up next to her other toes instead of sticking out 
to the side, like apes’ big toes. (Recall that Little Foot’s big toe was more 
apelike.) On the other hand (or foot), her big toe was stubby compared 
with the rest, which were longer and somewhat curved, like those of 
apes. LBi also had flat feet. Bill Jungers, whose team described the foot, 
is certain that hobbits could walk (if a bit clumsily) but thinks they 
would have had difficulty with brisk walking or running long distances. 


SEEKING HOBBIT’S EVOLUTIONARY ROOTS 

Scientists have an arsenal of sophisticated techniques for determining 
the most likely positions that extinct species occupied on the hominin 


Whence Homo floresiensis . ? / 183 


family tree, so one might think that determining the evolutionary 
origins of Homo floresiensis and its relationship to other hominin spe- 
cies would be easy. 83 It is anything but easy, however, because differ- 
ent researchers emphasize different traits, use different techniques, and 
compare LBi with different fossil hominins. Furthermore, the sample 
sizes for different species can be ridiculously small. To add to the con- 
fusion, paleoanthropologists often disagree about the species of some 
of the most important early hominins that are used in these compari- 
sons, such as those from Dmanisi and some of the early specimens 
from Kenya. Thus, one researcher’s Homo erectus may be another’s Homo 
ergaster (e.g., D2700). One’s Homo habilis might be another’s East African 
Australopithecus (e.g., KNM-ER 1813, OH 24). 84 

Despite these methodological problems, a number of scientists who 
reject the various sick-Hobbit hypotheses are beginning to think along 
similar lines regarding Hobbit’s evolutionary history. To begin with, 
the earlier idea that Homo erectus from nearby java was the direct ances- 
tor of Homo floresiensis is taking a beating — particularly when scientists 
put together the information they have collected from Hobbit’s entire 
skeleton. For example, a study by Debbie Argue, of the Australian 
National University, and her colleagues explored the possible place of 
Homo floresiensis on the hominin tree by comparing numerous features 
from the entire skeletons of African great apes, modern humans, various 
fossil hominins, and LBi. 85 This analysis concluded that LBi was prob- 
ably a tiny representative of a species that evolved from early Homo long 
ago, but one that did not have a particularly close relationship with 
Homo erectus. Instead, the authors think it likely that the direct ancestors 
of Homo floresiensis branched off from early Homo right around the dates 
for the two Homo habilis specimens in their sample (i.e., 1.7 million to 
1.9 million years ago). 86 

When Peter Brown combined his recent findings for the jaws and 
teeth of Homo floresiensis with information about other parts of the body, 
he reconsidered his earlier suggestion that hobbits may have been insu- 
larly dwarfed descendants of a larger-brained and larger-bodied Homo 


184 / Whence Homo floresiensis/ 1 


erectus ancestor who had lived on Java at the same time hominins of some 
sort were making stone tools on Flores (now thought to have been over 
1 million years ago). The form of the jaw, cranium, and the rest of the 
skeleton, along with the limb proportions, thickness of the bones, brain 
size, and details of LBi’s wrist, led Brown to conclude, “It is unlikely that 
the Liang Bua hominins are insular dwarfed descendants of H. erectus .” 87 
Jungers and his colleagues also think that the primitive features 
throughout Hobbit’s entire skeleton were probably not the result of 
island dwarfing, because they would have entailed too many evolution- 
ary reversals. 88 That is, Homo floresiensis would have had to reevolve 
numerous australopithecine-like features, including short hindlimbs, 
body proportions, and flat feet with apelike lateral toes. Jungers thus 
sees Homo floresiensis as having been too primitive to be a dwarfed descen- 
dant of Homo erectus. Instead, he thinks, “The comparative and functional 
anatomical evidence . . . suggests that H. floresiensis possesses many char- 
acteristics that may be primitive for the genus Homo. It follows that if 
these features are primitive retentions, then H. floresiensis could be a 
descendant of a primitive hominin that established a presence in Asia 
either alongside or at a different time than [Asian] H. erectus .” 89 

Brown does not share the belief of some anthropologists that there 
may have been a close relationship between Homo floresiensis and the 
Dmanisi hominins, which were taller and proportioned more like mod- 
ern humans, with larger braincases and heavier bodies. Instead, Brown 
thinks, “Comparison with Dmanisi H. erectus suggests that the Liang 
Bua hominin lineage left Africa before 1.8 Ma [million years ago], 
and possibly before the evolution of the genus Homo. We believe that 
these distinctive, toolmaking, small-brained, australopithecine-like, 
obligate bipeds moved from the Asian mainland through the Lesser 
Sunda Islands to Flores, before the arrival of H. erectus and H. sapiens in 
the region.” 90 Brown’s hypothesis is seconded by Morwood and Jungers: 
“We hypothesize . . . that the H. floresiensis lineage exited Africa between 
1.8— 2.6 Ma — i.e., before hominins occupied Dmanisi, but after they 
began making stone artifacts. . . . This was a time when the extent of 


Whence Homo floresiensis; 1 / 185 


grassland savanna from Africa to China offered no barriers to faunal 
exchange.” 91 

If we consider the two body plans (including relative brain size) rep- 
resented by the ten most complete skeletons from the early part of the 
hominin fossil record, the one that is the closer match for Hobbit is 
clear. LBi more closely resembled the little, short-legged, and small- 
brained australopithecines. But she also had some of the same features 
as Homo erectus, in addition to other traits that were unique, like her odd 
feet. Such peculiarities may best be explained as the result of a long 
period of isolated evolution on Flores. As Brown suggests, the ances- 
tors of Homo floresiensis could possibly have been australopithecines who 
migrated out of Africa a very long time ago. 92 

This possibility is underscored by the nature of the stone tools found 
in the hobbit-bearing strata of Liang Bua and at another, much older 
site on Flores called Mata Menge. 93 The Mata Menge tools go back to 
at least 840,000 years ago and resemble those that were produced right 
up until Homo floresiensis disappeared, around 17,000 years ago. (Similar 
stone tools that are at least 1 million years old have recently been dis- 
covered at the Flores site of Wolo Sege but are not yet as thoroughly 
described.) 94 The techniques that hominins used to make the tools at 
Flores were very similar to those used to produce the Oldowan tools 
associated with australopithecines and early Homo in East Africa. The 
stone tools from both Africa and Flores included very similar bifaces, 
choppers, burins, discoids, and awls (figure 30). Thus, as observed by 
Mark Moore and Adam Brumm, there was “remarkable . . . similarity 
between the 1. 2-1.9 Ma stone artifact assemblage from Olduvai Gorge — 
made by hominin(s) with less cranial capacity and cognitive develop- 
ment than modern humans — and the stone artifact assemblage from 
Mata Menge and Liang Bua on Flores.” 95 Recall, also, that the approxi- 
mately 1. 8-million-year-old stone tools from Dmanisi are similar to 
Oldowan artifacts. 

As we have seen, researchers vary in their ideas about what Hobbit’s 
ancestors will turn out to look like once their remains are discovered. 


Olduvai Gorge Mata Menge Liang Bua 



Figure 30. Comparison of artifacts from Olduvai Gorge, Mata Menge, and 
Liang Bua Pleistocene deposits. Images connected by short lines are different 
views of the same artifact. Arrows indicate scars resulting from the production 
of the burins. The scale is 50 mm. From Moore and Brumm 2008, courtesy of 
Mark Moore. 


Whence Homo floresiensis? / 187 


Whatever the answer, paleoanthropologists are beginning to realize 
that the generally accepted (“textbook”) model of human evolution, in 
which long, tall Homo erectus is portrayed as the first hominin to migrate 
from Africa around 2 million years ago, may be in need of serious revi- 
sion. Only time and new discoveries will tell, of course. Happily, Mike 
Morwood is doing his utmost to find new discoveries on Flores and 
other neighboring islands. For my part, I cannot yet rule out the idea 
that Homo floresiensis may have been a dwarfed descendant of an earlier 
ancestor. However, I would also not be surprised if australopithecine 
remains start turning up outside Africa. If so, it would cause a complete 
paradigm shift for the field of paleoanthropology. In any event, we can 
be sure of one thing: More interesting revelations about Homo floresiensis 
are bound to occur in the future. 

Scientists are fueled by their imaginations, and my scientific fanta- 
sies have changed because of the discovery of Homo floresiensis. When I 
was a little girl, I had an intense desire to see a UFO or, even better, 
an actual alien. After I grew up and became a paleoanthropologist, my 
science-fiction musings shifted to a daydream about the invention of a 
time machine. Over the years, I have periodically entertained myself 
by speculating about what prehistoric time and place I would choose to 
visit if I could take just one ride. (I am still torn by this one — perhaps 
a two-stop trip to 1.8 million years ago to take in Olduvai Gorge and 
Dmanisi.) What I wonder is whether a time machine would validate our 
generally accepted ideas about early hominins, or would we find that 
prehistory was completely different from what scientists have inferred? 
Fascinating question though it is, I dwell less on it now in favor of a 
new fantasy. Oh please, please won’t someone find real, live ebu gogo (or 
their equivalents) in some isolated and previously undiscovered refuge 
somewhere in the world? Wouldn’t that be something? 


NINE 


Bones to Pick 


But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether 
the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed 
from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at 
all trustworthy. 

Charles Darwin 


Because I have had the good fortune to study the endocasts of Taung and 
Hobbit, I have gained a perspective not only about their brains but also 
concerning the paleopolitics and theoretical tensions that have domi- 
nated paleoanthropology since 1925. For this reason, The Fossil Chronicles 
has focused primarily on a comparison of the discoveries and impacts 
of Australopithecus africanus (in the 1920s) and Homo floresiensis (in the first 
decade of the twenty-first century). It is important to keep in mind, how- 
ever, that these two species are part of a larger framework of significant 
hominin finds that have come to light since the mid-nineteenth century. 
A comparison of the discoveries of Neanderthal (1856), Pithecanthropus 
erectus (1891), so-called Piltdown Man (1912), Australopithecus africanus (1925), 
and Homo floresiensis (2004) shows that each was greeted with intense 
excitement, awe, controversy, and consternation from not only scientists 
but also often the public. People, it seems, have always loved to quibble 
about “missing links.” 

As discussed in the earlier chapters, our contemporary views of human 
origins have been molded, to some extent, by chance. What would have 
happened if there had been no Piltdown hoax? Would the significance 


188 


Bones to Pick / 189 


of Australopithecus africanus have been recognized much sooner, and, if 
so, would paleoanthropology now be more advanced, if not less acrimo- 
nious? Would Raymond Dart’s monograph have been published, after 
all? And where would our understanding of hominin brain evolution be 
today if it had been? It is encouraging that, despite such chance events 
(especially the wild card of the Piltdown fraud), scientific views about 
human origins have progressed during the past century and a half and 
continue today to be modified in the face of new evidence. 

An initial skepticism about new hominin discoveries among some 
scientists as well as religious fundamentalists is not the only trend that 
is evident when we broaden our historical perspective beyond Taung 
and Hobbit. There have also been parallels among the discoverers of 
important hominins. Take, for example, Eugene Dubois, who recovered 
a tooth, skullcap, and femur on the island ofjava in the early 1890s and 
identified them as parts of an ape-man called Pithecanthropus erectus } As 
Raymond Dart would later do, Dubois had read and embraced Darwin’s 
On the Origin of Species and had trained in medicine and anatomy. 2 Both 
men took jobs in foreign countries, where they became involved with 
fossil hunting. In fact, Dubois signed on as a medical officer in the Royal 
Dutch East Indies Army for the explicit purpose of finding the missing 
link in what is now Indonesia. Dart was also subject to wanderlust, hav- 
ing relocated to South Africa from Australia, via England, before mak- 
ing the scientific find of a lifetime. 3 So was another Australian, Mike 
Morwood, whose archaeological team unearthed Hobbit in 2003 on the 
small island of Flores, in Indonesia. 

Remarkably, it would only take four years after Dubois arrived in the 
Indies before his crew unearthed an ancient tooth and skullcap from a 
fossiliferous gravel terrace at Trinil, along the Solo River, in Java, in 1891. 
(The following season produced a modern-looking but pathological leg 
bone from the same beds.) Dart was even quicker to acquire Taung, 
which happened less than two years after he had relocated from London 
to Johannesburg. For his part, Morwood’s discovery of LBi occurred 
eight years after he conceived of a project to study hominin origins in 


190 / Bones to Pick 


Indonesia and Australia. These search times were surprisingly short, 
given the cliche that looking for our ancestors is like seeking the pro- 
verbial needle in a haystack. The efficiency of these discoveries was 
due to several factors. Dubois, Dart, and Morwood were deeply curi- 
ous about nature and had the scientific training to figure out where in 
the world to search for our prehistoric relatives. The discoverers were 
also ambitious, intensely focused on their goals, and able to acquire the 
resources to achieve them. 

Even before they published their announcements, Dubois and Dart 
were certain that they had discovered missing links that were fated to 
change the scientific thinking about human evolution. Both discov- 
eries were from bipedal hominins that appeared primitive compared 
with modern humans ( Australopithecus more so than Pithecanthropus ) but 
looked advanced compared with modern apes ( Pithecanthropus more so 
than Australopithecus). For this reason, Dart called the more primitive- 
looking Australopithecus a man-ape, whereas Pithecanthropus was known 
as an ape-man. Dubois and Dart realized that their discoveries con- 
firmed Darwin’s thinking about human origins, but in different ways. 
Dubois had dubbed his find Pithecanthropus erectus (literally, “ape-man 
upright”) to underscore the fact that upright walking had evolved before 
the brain increased to its modern size — just as Darwin had suggested. 4 
He also concluded that because Pithecanthropus came from Java, the East 
Indies was the “cradle of mankind.” 5 Over 30 years later, Dart named 
his discovery Australopithecus africanus (“southern ape from Africa”) in 
support of Darwin’s idea that humans had originated in Africa rather 
than Asia. 6 Dubois and Dart later wrote about feeling a sense of destiny 
at the time of their finds, and each eventually became depressed when 
the significance of his discovery was not recognized by fellow scientists. 

Other interesting parallels exist. Dubois and Dart took their fossils 
on tour to try to persuade colleagues of their importance, and each 
specimen was briefly lost and recovered once while on tour. Dubois left 
a suitcase containing the remains of Pithecanthropus underneath a table 
in a Paris cafe in 1895; Dart’s wife, Dora, left a box containing Taung 


Bones to Pick / 191 


in a taxi in London in 1931. 7 Although their discoveries were separated 
by over three decades, Dubois and Dart both arranged for casts of their 
specimens to be produced by Damon and Company in London and 
sold to interested individuals and museums, for which each received 
royalties. 

Dubois understood the utmost importance of writing a monograph 
that thoroughly described his discovery and explained its evolutionary 
significance. In doing so, he established the standard format for contem- 
porary monographs in paleoanthropology. 8 Dart was also aware of the 
importance of publishing such a monograph, but his long manuscript 
remains unpublished. Morwood, on the other hand, has followed the 
more contemporary practice of providing a thorough description of Homo 
floresiensis in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. The issue, 
which is titled Paleoanthropological Research at Liang Bua, Flores , Indonesia , 
contains chapters from various experts who analyze Homo floresiensis Horn 
a wide range of perspectives, including comparative anatomy, geology, 
archaeology, and paleontology. 9 

Surprising similarities also occurred in some of the specific details 
of the controversial receptions that greeted the discoveries of Pithecan- 
thropus, Australopithecus, and Homo floresiensis. Although Dubois initially 
estimated that the long, low, and thick-boned skullcap of Pithecanthropus, 
known as Trinil 2, was from a female whose cranial capacity had been 
nearly 1,000 cm 3 , he later lowered the volume to 900 cm 3 , which is in 
keeping with modern estimates for the specimen. 10 From the beginning, 
however, Dubois pointed out that the cranial capacity of the Trinil 2 
skullcap was small compared with that of modern humans. Foreshad- 
owing reaction to Hobbit, a number of established scientists, including 
the British paleontologist Richard Lydekker, suggested that Dubois’s 
discovery was a “microcephalic idiot, of an unusually elongated type,” 
rather than a missing link that was transitional between apes and hu- 
mans. 11 Another school of thought, led by Dubois’s fiercest opponent, 
the pathologist Rudolf Virchow, foreshadowed Taung by claiming the 
skullcap came from an aberrant ape (specifically, a giant gibbon). 12 


192 / Bones to Pick 


As scientists, Lydekker and Virchow were known for their anti- 
Darwinian views. 13 According to Dubois’s biographer, Pat Shipman, 
Virchow’s “passionate rejection of Darwin’s evolutionary theory and of 
all claims for human evolution had only grown stronger and louder. . . . 
Virchow was the enemy, the target, the one whose stubborn convictions 
had to be overturned if Dubois’s wonderful find was to gain accep- 
tance.” 14 Similar to Teuku Jacob, who complained about lack of access 
to the Homo floresiensis remains, Virchow raised a ruckus about the lack 
of access to Dubois’s finds with the director of the National Museum of 
Natural History, in Leiden. 15 

Like Dart, Dubois also received criticism from religious fundamen- 
talists. For example, according to an anonymous 1893 newspaper report: 

As a firm Darwinist, he [Dubois] dreams of making a discovery which the 
great master of evolution will greet with joy. ... At present Darwinism is the 
backbone of the education of most high school graduates. The heavy facts 
that are brought up against Darwin’s theory by the most competent authori- 
ties — these leave them cold. ... I fear, however, that this time the Darwinian 
outlook of the esteemed Mr. Dubois has played a trick on him. ... A non- 
Darwinist would scratch himself through his fur before he would propose a 
genetic link between the monkey skull and the monkey molar and the femur, 
which has a close speaking acquaintance with a human femur. ... I am afraid 
that the esteemed Mr. Dubois, prejudiced because he has completely swal- 
lowed Darwinism, has gone too far. . . . This publication of Dr. Dubois will 
create a furore, especially in the “Land of Intellectuals”. 16 

Dubois’s announcement of Pithecanthropus met with skepticism from 
scientists for different, sometimes contradictory, reasons. 17 One camp 
rejected the assertion that the skullcap and tooth that were found in 1891 
and the modern-looking femur that was recovered from the same strata 
the following year belonged to the same individual. These scientists 
regarded the skullcap as apelike but the femur as humanlike. Others 
thought that the skullcap and femur were both from a human that was 
either very ancient or, if not, a “microcephalic idiot.” 18 According to 
Dubois, “Only Professor Manouvrier of Paris, and Professor Marsh in 


Bones to Pick / 193 


America admitted the possibility of the remains belonging to a transition 
form between man and the apes.” 19 

Scientists were also critical because Dubois had not compared the 
remains with those from Neanderthals when he wrote his monograph, 
largely because he did not have access to adequate comparative mate- 
rial in Indonesia. Dart later met with similar criticism from anonymous 
reviewers of his unpublished monograph, because he had not compared 
Taung with an adequate sample of apes, which was unavailable in South 
Africa at the time. As would happen with Dart, after much scientific 
wrangling and the discovery of many additional specimens, Dubois’s 
interpretation was eventually confirmed, 20 and he is now recognized as 
the person who discovered the first Homo erectus remains. 

The controversial receptions to missing links on the part of scientists 
have been exacerbated by the surprising locations in which the fos- 
sils were discovered, as well as by their unusual mixtures of physical 
features. At the time Pithecanthropus was discovered, ancient hominin 
remains (notably Neanderthals) had been recovered only from Europe, 
and Charles Darwin’s suggestion that humans first originated in Africa 
was in the air. 21 Dubois’s conclusion that the East Indies (Indonesia) was 
the cradle of mankind therefore violated contemporary scientific expec- 
tations. Dart’s announcement some 30 years later that Africa was the 
cradle of humanity was equally disconcerting, because, by then, Dubois’s 
Asia-centered view had become accepted. Taung also violated scientific 
expectations of how a missing link should look, because its small brain 
and humanlike jaw were the opposite of another (presumably) early 
Pleistocene hominin, Piltdown Man, which had not yet been disclosed as 
a fraud. 22 As Phillip Tobias has detailed, the discovery of Australopithecus 
was, thus, ahead of its time, or “premature.” 23 As we have seen, the sur- 
prising Indonesian location and strange combination of features of Homo 
floresiensis suggest that this new species may be destined to cause another 
major upheaval in our understanding of hominin evolution. 

Endocasts contributed significant information to the analyses of Pithe- 
canthropus, Taung, and LBi. In Dart’s case, Taung’s skull was associated 


194 / Bones to Pick 


with a natural endocast. Dubois was not so lucky, however, and had to 
make an artificial endocast from the original Pithecanthropus skullcap . 24 
Dubois pioneered not only the method of estimating cranial capacity 
from external skull measurements that Dart would later use when he 
described Taung, but also the analytical techniques for studying brain- 
size and body-size scaling that are used today . 25 The Pithecanthropus 
skullcap and Taung both required extensive preparation before they 
could be studied, and Dubois and Dart spent considerable time care- 
fully cleaning them with a variety of tools, which included their wives’ 
embroidery and knitting needles. Thanks to advances in medical imag- 
ing technology, my team did not have to resort to knitting needles or 
the preparation of latex endocasts to study Hobbit’s brain. 

The above examples show that the study of hominin brain evolu- 
tion (paleoneurology) is an exceptionally contentious subarea of paleo- 
anthropology — so much so, in fact, that it begs explanation. Why on 
Earth would scientists fabricate and publish data for a nonexistent en- 
docast or falsely claim that researchers had examined and selectively 
excluded a particular endocast from their published analyses? Are these 
examples of the adage that “university politics are vicious precisely 
because the stakes are so small ”? 26 I don’t think so. As I suggested in 
the introduction, one reason why paleoneurology is such an academic 
minefield may be that the brain is the physical locus of the neurological, 
emotional, and cognitive traits that make us human. In other words, 
when it comes to the subject of human evolution, the paleoneuro logical 
stakes are high rather than low. 

And it’s not just paleoneurology that is contentious. As I carried out 
the research for this book, I was startled by the intensity of the scientific 
debates that had greeted the discoveries of Neanderthals, Pithecanthropus, 
and Taung. When it comes to the subject of human origins, scientists 
have been every bit as passionate about their convictions as religious 
fundamentalists are. Although such academic infighting has been attrib- 
uted to petty rivalries, jealousies, quests for power, and competition for 
limited resources, such as grants and promotions, I think the reasons for 


Bones to Pick / 195 


the dicey paleopolitics that permeates discussions about human origins 
may also go deeper. Furthermore, these gut-level reasons may not be 
so different from those that inspire antievolutionary rhetoric in some 
religious fundamentalists. 

RELIGION, EVOLUTION, AND (iM)MORTALITY 

Recall from chapter 3 that the discoverer of Australopithecus africanus, 
Raymond Dart, had been raised as a devout Christian. Perhaps this 
explains why Dart pondered the relationship between religion and the 
study of human evolution. Both enterprises, he noted, address “the great- 
est questions man has ever posed or is ever likely to pose . . . : Whence 
has man come? How was he made? How did he come to differ from other 
creatures? How is it that he at first learned so little and then came, as it 
were in a series of sudden spurts, to know so much about the world and 
himself while other living creatures were content simply to live and to 
remain ignorant?” 27 According to Dart, the world’s great religions had 
traditionally approached these questions through sacred writings, but 
the “writing in the rocks” became a preferable source for answers after 
Pithecanthropus was discovered in the early 1890s and with the advent of 
radiometric dating techniques. 

The tension between religion and paleoanthropology began even 
before that, however, when a Neanderthal skull and bones, which were 
the first to be recognized as the possible remains of a prehistoric human, 
were unearthed in 1856 in Diisseldorf, Germany. Nevertheless, Dart was 
right. Even though religious fundamentalists and paleoanthropologists 
were worlds apart in methodological and evidentiary matters, they both 
addressed the same profound questions. And still do. Although Dart 
framed the above questions to refer to humans in the abstract as “man,” 
research published in 1990 by the psychologists Jack Maser and Gordon 
Gallup suggests that the evolutionary roots of religion stem from a more 
personal sense of self (“me” or “I”) in conjunction with one other impor- 
tant ingredient — namely a recognition of one’s own mortality. 28 


196 / Bones to Pick 


Gallup is famous for having invented the mirror (or mark) test for 
determining if animals have a sense of “me,” or self He, thus, painted red 
dye above the eyebrows and ears of a variety of anesthetized animals, 
who were then placed in rooms that contained mirrors. Upon waking 
and gazing into the mirrors, most animals reacted to their reflections as 
if they were other animals (sometimes by threatening them). However, 
when some animals, such as great apes (as opposed to monkeys), gazed 
at their reflections, they touched the parts of their bodies that were 
dyed and often tried to remove the paint. Gallup’s interpretation was 
that these animals possessed a sense of self Although the list of self- 
aware mammals has grown since Gallup did his pioneering work, only 
a handful have yet passed the mirror test, including elephants, dolphins, 
people, and, most recently (to some extent), pigs. 29 

Maser and Gallup argue that a sense of self is an evolutionarily 
advanced trait that must have developed in our ancestors before they 
evolved an ability to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions: to be 
aware that they were aware. This ability to reflect, in turn, would have 
been a prerequisite for inferring the emotional states, motivations, and 
intentions of others (an aptitude for “mind reading,” at which humans 
excel, known as theory of mind, or ToM). i0 What, you may wonder, does 
this have to do with religion? As Maser and Gallup put it, “God, as the 
ultimate attribution, is a natural extension of our ability to reflect on our 
own mental states. We typically use these reflections as a model for pre- 
suming the mental life of others, but a logical extension of that capacity 
is to use these reflections to infer the mentality of a theistic entity.” 31 

As far as we know, only humans conceive of a god (or gods), and 
Maser and Gallup believe that an evolved sense of self is a necessary 
but not sufficient condition for this to happen. Their second condition 
for the emergence of a belief in God is that our ancestors must have 
had an understanding of death. Once hominins became self-aware and 
also grasped that death occurs in others, their own inevitable deaths 
became a concern. Thus, the concept of personal mortality became “a 
major motivational component forcing into use our cognitive capac- 


Bones to Pick / 197 


ity to conceive of God.” 32 According to Maser and Gallup’s fascinating 
theory, religion, the great comforter, emerged as a means to cope with 
the existential terror wrought by our big-brained self-awareness. 

And where are scientists, including the subset that includes paleo- 
anthropologists (biologists), in all of this? A 2009 survey conducted by 
the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Pew 
Research Center found that 33 percent of scientists believe in a personal 
God. 33 However, this estimate may be too imprecise and perhaps too high. 
An earlier study that polled members of the elite United States National 
Academy of Sciences (NAS) suggested that the figure is only 7 percent for 
“greater” scientists. 34 Further, only 7.9 percent of the polled NAS mem- 
bers believe in human immortality. Interestingly, the survey found the 
highest percentage of NAS believers among mathematicians (14.3 percent 
believe in God, 15.0 percent in immortality) and the lowest among the 
biological scientists (5.5 percent believe in God, 7.1 percent in immortal- 
ity). To some, these results indicate that dedicated scientists tend to be 
doubters, because science and religion are inherently antithetical. 35 

I wonder if another explanation might not be equally likely. Perhaps 
science itself has become the “great comforter” for many dedicated 
researchers, as well as a perceived way to achieve a type of immortal- 
ity by contributing to the advancement of their fields. In other words, 
science may sometimes take the place of religion. As we have seen, sci- 
entists (especially paleoanthropologists) can be as emotionally invested 
in their explanations of human origins as religious fundamentalists are 
in theirs. After all, the topic literally entails matters of life and death. 
Perhaps this accounts, if only in part, for the emotionally charged debates 
that greeted historically important discoveries of fossil hominins. It is 
important to emphasize, however, that religious fundamentalists are 
unlikely to change their views about human origins in light of new 
discoveries, but scientists eventually (if belatedly) do, as shown by the 
example of Taung. 

For as long as they have been around, fossil hominins have stoked 
fervent debates about what schools should or should not teach students 


198 / Bones to Pick 


about human origins. As discussed in chapter 3, numerous discover- 
ies including Neanderthals, Pithecanthropus , and the Taung juvenile had 
accumulated by the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, 
which made it increasingly difficult to dismiss them as aberrant apes or 
pathological humans. There were just too many of them! This added to 
the discomfort within the American Biblicist movement, which inter- 
prets the Bible literally, and helped fuel a surge in the militancy that 
sparked the infamous 1925 Scopes “monkey trial.” 36 As we have seen 
from the contemporary reaction to the discovery of Homo floresiensis, dis- 
coveries of new hominin species continue to be a sore point with those 
who adhere to fundamentalist religious views about human origins. 37 

This does not surprise me. I am surprised, however, by the extent to 
which the discoveries of new hominins continue to provoke bitter con- 
troversy among paleoanthropologists. 38 It is understandable that the 1856 
unearthing of Neanderthal raised scientific eyebrows, since Darwin’s 
On the Origin of Species would not be published for another three years. 
The painfully slow acceptance of Australopithecus africanus, regrettable as 
it was, also makes some kind of sense when one takes into account the 
awful and prolonged influence of the Piltdown fraud. The reasons for 
the acrimonious reaction of some scientists to the 2004 announcement 
of Homo floresiensis, on the other hand, are not as clear. Contemporary 
paleoanthropologists have read their Darwin, and Piltdown was de- 
bunked half a century before Hobbit’s discovery. 

Although LBi’s little skeleton and tiny cranial capacity were, indeed, 
odd, we had already heard whispers from Dmanisi, Georgia, that some- 
thing might be off in our textbook models of hominin evolution. LBi 
and the other fragmentary remains of her species discovered at Liang 
Bua suggest that something probably is. One can’t help but wonder 
whether Hobbit’s potential for upsetting our views of human evolution 
was responsible for igniting the intense paleopolitics that continues to 
shroud the interpretation of Homo floresiensis. What will settle the matter 
is more remains, of course. The scientist in me is praying fervently for 
their discovery. 


NOTES 


I. OF PALEOPOLITICS AND MISSING LINKS 

The opening epigraph is from Smith 1927, 106. 

1. Weiner, Oakley, and Le Gros Clark 1953, 1955. 

2. Weiner, Oakley, and Le Gros Clark 1953. 

3. Tobias 1992b, 246. 

4. Darwin 1859, 1871. 

5. Dubois 1896. 

6. Dubois 1896, 244; Spencer 1990a, 43. 

7. Boule 1913. 

8. Spencer 1990a, 56, quoting Arthur Keith on the occasion of the unveiling 
of Piltdown. See Spencer 1990b for an annotated collection of documents per- 
taining to the Piltdown affair. See also Dawson and Woodward 1913. 

9. Spencer 1990a, 6y-66. 

10. Spencer 1990a, 66, for which Spencer cites “The Battle of the Skull,” in 
the Times , August 12, 1913 . 1 cannot help wondering if such arrogance on Keith’s 
part played a role in why he was once considered one of the most likely sus- 
pects in originating and perpetrating the Piltdown hoax. 

11. Spencer 1990a, 67. 

12. Spencer 1990a, 68, where Spencer quotes Dawson from an interview that 
appeared in the Sussex Daily News on the same day as the famous debate — 
August n, 1913. 

13. Weiner, Oakley, and Le Gros Clark 1953. 

14. Spencer 1990a, 92. 

15. Although Grafton Elliot Smith’s last name is Smith, his colleagues re- 


09 


200 / Notes to Pages n—iy 


ferred to him as “Elliot Smith” in their writings. I continue that tradition in 
this book. However, as is also traditional, Elliot Smith’s publications are listed 
under his last name, “Smith,” in the references. 

16. Larson 2006, 32, for which Larson cites (on 284) “William Jennings Bryan, 
‘Speech to the West Virginia State Legislature,’” in William Jennings Bryan, 
Orthodox Christianity versus modernism (New York: Revell, 1923), 37. 

17. Dart 1972, 171. 

18. Dart 1973, 418; Dart 1972, 171. 

19. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 9. 

20. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 10. 

21. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 224. 

22. Grigg 2006; H. Dart 1981. 

23. Tobias 1984, 55. 

24. Dart 1973, 418. Indeed, 1914 was also a momentous year for the world, 
since it was the beginning of World War I. 

25. Dart 1972, 171. 

2 6. Dart 1973, 419. 

27. Dart with Craig 1959, 29. 

28. Tobias 1984, 5, 7. 

29. Dart 1929, 163. 

30. Dart 1973, 420-21. 

31. Dart 1972, 173. 

32. Dart 1973, 421. 

33. Dart with Craig 1959, 30. 

34. Dart with Craig 1959, 31, 32. 

35. Tobias 1984, 7, 8. 

36. Tobias 1984, 8. 

37. Keith 1950, 480. 

38. Dart 1973, 422. 

39. Weiner 1955; Spencer 1990a; Tobias 1992b. 

40. Spencer 1990a, 151-52. 

41. Weiner 1955. 

42. Spencer 1990a, 199, 240. 

43. Tobias 1992b. 

44. Spencer 1990a ; Tobias 1992b. 

45. Gardiner 2003. See also Gardiner and Currant 1996. 

46. Gardiner 2003. 

47. Gardiner and Currant 1996. 


Notes to Pages 17—23 / 


201 


48. Gee 1 996. See Gee’s quotation of Chris Stringer. 

49. Hinton quoted in Gardiner 2003, 323. 

50. Spencer 1990a, 263. 

51. Spencer 1990a, 30. 

52. Shipman 2002, 157. Shipman assured me in an e-mail message of Septem- 
ber 22, 2009, that Dubois used the term coconut in describing the event: “Yes, as I 
recall, ‘coconut’ was Dubois’s term or else that of his workers. Not mine.” 

53. Gee 1996. For details see Spencer 1990a, 87-89. 

54. Dubois 1896; Shipman 2002, 326. 

55. Keith 1931, 273-74. 

56. Dubois 1899; Shipman 2002, 341. 

2. TAUNG: A FOSSIL TO RIVAL PILTDOWN 

The opening epigraph is from Dart 1940, 169. 

1. Tobias 1984; Dart with Craig 1959. In Tobias’s account, Salmons borrowed 
the skull from Mr. Izod’s son Pat, who had taken it to Wits. Dart, on the other 
hand (writing 3yyears after the event), remembered that Salmons had borrowed 
the fossil after seeing it on a fireplace mantel on a visit to Mr. Izod’s home. It 
doesn’t really matter which version is accurate, but it is interesting that they 
differ. 

2. Dart with Craig 1959, 2-3. 

3. Dart with Craig 1959; Young 1925a, b. 

4. The quoted description of the account is found in Tobias 2006, 133. 

5. Dart with Craig 1959, 4-6. 

6 . Keith 1931, 47; Tobias 2006, 135; Tobias 1984, 26. 

7. Young 1925b. See also Strkalj 2005. 

8. Young 1925b. 

9. Dart with Craig 1959, 4. 

10. Dart 1925a, 195; Tobias 2006. 

11. Tobias 1984, 26. 

12. This interpretation is also consistent with Dart’s statement in a press 
release: “These relics were brought to the University of the Witwatersrand by 
Dr. R. B. Young, Professor of Geology,” on the assumption that Dart was speak- 
ing figuratively rather than literally about the location to which Young brought 
the specimens (Dart 1925b). 

13. Dart 1925a, 199. 

14. Dart with Craig 1959, 2-4; Dart 1925b. 


202 / Notes to Pages zj—jti 


15. My friend and colleague Harryjerison (1973, 1991), who is a giant in brain 
evolution, calls this the “principle of proper mass.” 

16. Welker and Campos 1963. 

17. Felleman et al. 1983; Pubols and Pubols 1971. 

18. Falk 1982. 

19. Falk 1981. 

20. Falk 2004a. 

21. Tobias 2006, 135. 

22. Dart 1925a. 

23. Dart with Craig 1959, 10. 

24. Dart 1925a, 195. 

25. Dart with Craig 1959, 17. 

2 6. Dart 1925a, 199. 

27. Darwin 1871. 

28. Dart with Craig 1959, 16. 

29. Dart with Craig 1959, 17. 

30. In the words of Phillip Tobias and as will be discussed in the next chap- 
ter, the discovery of Taung was “premature.” See Tobias 1996. 

31. Dart with Craig 1959, 17. 

32. Tobias 1984, 33. 

33. Dart with Craig 1959, 23. 

34. Dart with Craig 1959, 23. 

35. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 70; Dart with Craig 1959, 33. 

3 6. Tobias 1984, 36. 

37. South Africa has an extraordinary fossil record of natural endocasts from 
various animals because ofits propitious geological conditions (e.g., lots of lime). 

38. Dart 1929, 154. 

39. Although essentially he got it right, today we know that Dart estimated 
a bit high on Taung’s cranial capacity and estimate of what would have been 
its adult size. Taung’s cranial capacity was about 382 cm 3 , which was within the 
chimp range, and it would have reached an adult value of about 406 cm 3 (Falk 
and Clarke 2007). 

40. Dart 1925a, 197-98. 

41. Although it does not affect the discussion here, Elliot Smith’s assumption 
about this particular sulcus in humans turned out to be erroneous, as detailed 
in chapter 4. 

42. Dart 1925a; Smith 1903, 1904a, b. 

43. Dart 1925a, 198. 


Notes to Pages 36—45 / 203 


44. Dart 1925a, 198. Dart wanted to call the family the Homo-simiadae, but 
it didn’t stick. 

45. From our own correspondent . . . , 1925. 

4 6. Dart 1972, 174. 

47. General Smuts served twice as prime minister of South Africa: 1919-24 
and 1939-48. Dart received the letter in between Smuts’s two terms. 

48. Dart with Craig 1959, 34. 

49. Dart with Craig 1959, 35. 

50. R. Broom 1925. 

51. Tobias 1984, 37. Tobias quotes a newspaper article of February 25, 1925, 
from the Cape Times. 

52. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 73. 

3. taung’s checkered past 

The opening epigraph is from Dart with Craig 1959, 15. 

1. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 73. 

2. Dart with Craig 1959, 37. 

3. Keith 1925a, 234. 

4. Smith 1925a, 235. 

5. Smith 1925a, 235. 

6. Smith 1925a, 235. 

7. Woodward 1925, 234-35. 

8. Duckworth 1925. 

9. Duckworth 1925. 

10. Dart with Craig 1959, 37-38. 

11. Dart with Craig 1959, 38. 

12. Lane 1925. 

13. Strkalj 2006. 

14. Dart with Craig 1959, 38. 

15. Rand Daily Mail , March 21, 1925, clipping among the Raymond Dart Papers, 
University of Witwatersrand Archives. 

16. Lane 1925. 

17. Dart i92vd. 

18. Dart with Craig 1959, 41. 

19. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 96-97. 

20. Keith 1925b. 

21. Keith 1925b. 


204 / Notes to Pages J.J—J2 


22. Dart with Craig 1959, 42. 

23. Smith 1925b. 

24. Dart 1925c. 

25. Keith 1925b. 

26. Tobias 2005. 

27. Dart with Craig 1959, 51. 

28. Barlow 1925. 

29. Spencer 1990a, xix. 

30. Dart 1925a. 

31. Keith 1925a, 234. 

32. Dart 1929. 

33. By the time Elliot Smith informed Dart about the rejection of his mono- 
graph, the former had known about it for around seven months, as indicated by 
a rejection letter ofjuly 4, 1930, from the Royal Society to Elliot Smith, in the 
Raymond Dart Papers, University of Witwatersrand Archives. 

34. Dart with Craig 1959, 52. 

35. Smith 1931. 

36. Dart 1933. 

37. Dart 1934. 

38. Broom 1950, 27. 

39. Tobias 1996, 51. 

40. In making his case, Tobias cited the molecular geneticist Gunther Stent’s 
theory about premature discoveries (Stent 1972). 

41. Tobias 1996, 57. 

42. Tobias 1996, 57. 

43. Excerpt (punctuation uncorrected) from a letter to Professor Dart (signa- 
ture illegible), February 7, 1925, Grand Hotel-Paris, the Raymond Dart Papers, 
University of Witwatersrand Archives. 

44. “Denies Monkey Ancestors, Pulpit Cold Water on Missing Link,” Rand 
Daily Mail, February 9, 1925, the Raymond Dart Papers, University of Witwa- 
tersrand Archives. 

45. “Man and His Origin, Christianity and Evolution, Bishop Talbot on the 
Taungs Skull,” the Star (Johannesburg), February 19, 1925, the Raymond Dart 
Papers, University of Witwatersrand Archives. 

46. Ibid. 

47. “The Taungs Skull, Theologians’ Problem, Bishop Barnes on Man’s Prog- 
ress,” the Star (Johannesburg), February 21, 1925, the Raymond Dart Papers, Uni- 
versity of Witwatersrand Archives. 


Notes to Pages 52—61 / 205 


48. Larson 2006, 32. 

49. “Was Missing Link a Pigmy? Controversies over South African Dis- 
covery,” Cape Times (Cape Town), February 6, 1925, the Raymond Dart Papers, 
University of Witwatersrand Archives. Dr. Albert Churchward was a medical 
doctor who wrote about human origins during the early 1900s. He believed that 
Africans evolved in a particular sequence from ancestral pygmies. 

50. Quoted in Dart with Craig 1959, 40. 

51. Larson 2006, 32. 

52. Grigg 2006, 38. 

53. Dart 1925b. 

54. Dart with Craig 1959, 237. 

55. Tobias 1984. 

56. Dart with Craig 1959, 54. 

57. Gregory 1930. 

58. Romer 1930. 

59. Gregory quoted in Dart with Craig 1959, 75. 

60. Dart with Craig 1959, 70. 

61. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 221. 

62. Wheelhouse and Smithford 2001, 223. 

63. Dart with Craig 1959, 91. 

64. Dart with Craig 1959, 92. 

65. Dart with Craig 1959, 79; Broom and Schepers 1946. 

66. LeGros Clark 1947, 331. 

67. Keith 1947. 

68. Dart with Craig 1959, 80. 

69. Dart 1940, 177-78. 

70. Tobias 1992a. Raymond Dart’s 1979 will is among the Raymond Dart 
Papers, University of Witwatersrand Archives. 

4. SULCAL SKIRMISHES 

The opening epigraph is from Holloway 1981, 50— 51. 

1. Le Gros Clark 1947. 

2. For details, see Falk 2004a. 

3. Falk 1980. 

4. Le Gros Clark, Cooper, and Zuckerman 1936. 

5. Falk 1980, 538. 

6. Holloway 1981, 43. 


2o 6 / Notes to Pages 62— 70 


7. Falk 1983, 487. 

8. Holloway 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1991; Holloway, Broadfield, and Yuan 2001; 
Holloway, Clarke, and Tobias 2004; Holloway and Kimbel 1986. 

9. Falk 1985a, b, 1986, 1989, 1991; Falk, Hildebolt, and Vannier 1989. 

10. Holloway 1981, 57, 50. 

11. Holloway 2001. 

12. The concept of mosaic evolution may be appropriate when one com- 
pares the evolution of different functional systems in hominins. For example, it 
is generally recognized that bipedal locomotion evolved before the evolution- 
ary increase in brain size. The notion of mosaic evolution becomes awkward, 
however, when applied to the surface of the cerebral cortex, because the latter 
“is not a piecemeal collection of areas, each with its own discrete function, but 
is a generalized processing device," which is consistent with the observation 
that functions “may play more freely over the cortical matrix specified early 
in development than we have imagined” (Kaskan et al. 2005, 98). The idea that 
the neocortex engages in generalized processing rather than in specific pro- 
cessing within independent areas also accords with the conserved nature of 
neurological development (neurogenesis) (Finlay and Darlington 1995), with 
the fact that the major predictor of the sizes of various brain structures is the 
size of the whole brain (Finlay and Darlington 1995), and with the remarkable 
plasticity of the brain (Kaskan et al. 2005). 

13. Falk 2004a. 

14. Conroy et al. 1998. 

15. Falk 1998. 

16. Falk et al. 2000. 

17. Holloway 1981. 

18. Dart 1929. 

19. Le Gros Clark, Cooper, and Zuckerman 1936. 

20. It is beyond the scope of this book to go into all of the details about 
Taung’s sulcal pattern and the history of its analyses by various workers. The 
interested reader can find these in Falk 2009b. 

21. Holloway 1981, 51. 

22. Smith 1903, 1904a, b. 

23. Allen, Bruss, and Damasio 2006. 

24. Le Gros Clark, Cooper, and Zuckerman 1936. 

25. This is discussed in great detail in Falk 2009b. 

26. Connolly 1950. 

27. Dart 1929, 179. 


Notes to Pages 70—79 / 207 


28. Falk 2009b. 

29. Dart 1959, 6a. 

30. Dart 1929, 167-97, 208—10. 

31. To the best of my knowledge only a two-page summary of Dart’s shape 
analysis was ever published: Dart 1940, 181-83. 

32. Dart 1929, 165-66. Dart’s second area is not recognized as a single region 
today, because it included the lateral part of the inferior premotor cortex (of 
the frontal lobes) in addition to the inferolateral part of the prefrontal cortex 
in front of it. 

33. Dart 1929, 168. 

34. Dart 1929, 167, 193. 

35. Dart’s second area is, thus, not recognized as a single region today, be- 
cause it included the lateral part of the inferior premotor cortex of the frontal 
lobes in addition to the inferolateral part of the prefrontal cortex. 

36. Dart 1929, 185. 

37. Dart 1929, 187. 

38. Dart 1929, 194. 

39. Holloway 2001; Barton and Harvey 2000. 

40. Dart 1929, 176. 

41. Van Essen 2007. 

42. Dart 1929, 162. 

43. Brown et al. 2004; Morwood et al. 2004. 

5. ONCE UPON A HOBBIT 

The opening epigraph is from Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 189—90. 

1. Dart 1925a. 

2. The date of 17,000 years ago is a replacement for a date of 12,000 years ago 
that was initially announced as an estimate for the age of the volcanic eruption 
that led to the disappearance of Homo floresiensis and stegodonts from Flores. 
See Westaway, Roberts, et al. 2009; Westaway, Sutikna, et al. 2009. On the other 
hand,Jungers and Baab (2009) date the sediments that contained Homo floresien- 
sis specimens to as recently as 15,000 years ago, and Roberts et al. (2009) date 
the sediments that sealed in Hobbit to about 14,000 years ago. 

3. The National Geographic film first aired on U.S. television on March 13, 
2005. 

4. Brown et al. 2004. 

5. Morwood et al. 2004. 


2 o 8 / Notes to Pages 79—87 


6 . As mentioned in chapter 2, one makes an endocast by coating a braincase 
with liquid latex, which turns into rubber once the latex cures (frequently by 
being heated). The difficult part is to remove the hollow endocast through the 
hole for the spinal cord, which is in the bottom of the skull, without damag- 
ing the specimen. 

7. Brumm et al. 2010. This is a newly determined and older date for tools from 
the site of Wolo Sege, on Flores. At the time Hobbit was discovered, the earli- 
est-known tools were from Mata Menge and dated to around 840,000 years ago. 

8. Moore et al. 2009; van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

9. Foster 1964. The “island rule” was given its name by L.M. Van Valen (Van 
Valen 1973). 

10. Meiri, Cooper, and Purvis 2008. 

n. Because of the prevailing southward ocean currents, it is thought that 
these animals probably originated on the island of Sulawesi, to the north of 
Flores, rather than onjava, to its west (van den Bergh et al. 2009). 

12. This is one reason why paleoanthropologists suspect that the makers of 
the over one-million-year-old tools were the ancestors of Homo floresiensis. 

13. Darwin 1859; van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

14. van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

15. Meiri, Cooper, and Purvis 2008. 

16. Jungers and Baab 2009. 

17. Meiri, Cooper, and Purvis 2008; Bromham and Cardillo 2007. 

18. See Bednarik, in press, for an excellent discussion about the hazards and 
probable origins of seafaring in Indonesia. Some workers believe that LBi’s relative 
brain size was too small for Homo floresiensis to have been a dwarfed descendant of 
Homo erectus (Martin, Maclarnon, et al., “Flores hominid,” 2006; Martin, Maclar- 
non, et al., Comment, 2006; Martin 2007), even though data from hippopotamuses 
(Weston and Lister 2009) and foxes (Schauber and Falk 2008) suggest otherwise. 
The related suggestion that LBi’s relative brain size was too small to have been 
from any normal primate is dubious in light of its similarity to those of chimpan- 
zees, australopithecines, and early Homo (Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005). 

19. Dehaene 2009, 212. 

20. McPherron et al. 2010. 

21. Goodall 1990, 5. 

22. Moore 2007; Moore and Brumm 2008; Moore et al. 2009. 

23. For details, see Moore et al. 2009, 504-6. 

24. Moore et al. 2009, 520-21. 

25. Jacob et al. 2006; Martin, Maclarnon, et al., “Flores hominid,” 2006. For 


Notes to Pages $7—96 / 209 


popular accounts of the controversy surrounding the maker of the tools on Liang 
Bua, see Kohn 2005; and Wong 2005. 

26. Moore 2007 , 22. 

27. Moore 2007, 16—17. 

28. At the moment, what happened on Flores between 17,000 and 11,000 years 
ago is anybody’s guess. Did some of the hobbits survive the volcanic eruption, 
and, if so, was there any contact between them and Homo sapiens ? We hope to 
have answers to these questions in the future. 

29. van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

30. Morwood et al. 2005; Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 114. 

31. van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

32. Roberts et al. 2009; Morwood et al. 2005. 

33. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 142-43. 

34. van den Bergh et al. 2008. 

35. van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

36. van den Bergh et al. 2009. 

37. Diamond 1987. 

38. Shipman 2002. 

39. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, ro. 

40. For more details about the scope of the project and the experts who 
were involved, see Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007; Morwood and jungers 
2009; and Morwood et al. 2009. 

41. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 7, m-13. 

42. The institution has been renamed the National Research and Develop- 
ment Centre for Archaeology. It is in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

43. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 93. 

44. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 116. 

45. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 231. 

46. Eugene Dubois, who discovered Pithecanthropus erectus, is another exam- 
ple of a “king” who was overly protective of the fossils under his care. 

47. Vidal 2005. 

48. Vidal 2005. 

49. Culotta 2005a. 

50. Culotta 2005b. 

51. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 278. 

52. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 287. 

53. Dalton 2005, 935. 

54. For proceedings of the seminar, see Indriati 2007. 


2io / Notes to Pages 97—107 


55. The multiregional model of evolution is often contrasted with the “Out 
of Africa,” “Eve,” or “replacement” hypothesis, in which Homo sapiens is thought 
to have evolved initially in Africa and to have eventually given rise to individu- 
als who migrated to other parts of the world and replaced the early hominins 
who were living there. 

56. Henneberg and Thorne 2004, 3. 

57. Henneberg and Thorne 2004, 3. 

58. Brown and Morwood 2004, 6. 

59. In his first pronouncements to the media, Jacob went so far as to suggest 
that LBi had been a microcephalic pygmy and a male rather than a female to 
boot. For details, see Vidal 2005. 

60. Vidal 2005. 

61. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, back cover. 

62. Wieland 2004b. 

63. Wieland 2004a. 

64. Wieland 2005. 

65. Wieland 2005. 

66 . Wieland 2004b. 

67. Grigg 2006. 

68. Rana 2009. 

69. Rana and Ross 2006, quoted in Line 2006. 

70. Morwood and Van Oosterzee 2007, 267. 

71. Yahya 2008. 

72. Indeed, this was the view of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78), who created 
the binomial classification system for plants and animals that is still used today. 
Thus, each organism is assigned two names — a genus and a species, such as 
Homo sapiens — and all life forms are arranged in an extremely complex hierar- 
chical pyramid. Linnaeus believed that each form of life originated with the 
Creator and remained static thereafter. 

73. Gee 2004. 

74. Gee 2004. 

75. Howse 2004. 

76. Pinker 2004, 78. 

77. This replica, as well as others like it, was created from three-dimen- 
sional computed tomographic (3D-CT) data through a process called stereo- 
lithography. For details, see Falk 2004b. 

78. Schoenemann et al. 2007. 

79. Falk et al. 2010. 


Notes to Pages 109—124 / 


211 


6 . flo’s little brain 

The opening epigraph is from Milne 19457 48. 

1. Henneberg and Thorne 2004, 3. 

2. Jacob et al. 2006. 

3. The late Barry Brunsden also worked on the CT data from LBi. Having 
two engineers independently render virtual endocasts from LBi’s CT data was 
an expensive luxury but one that provided an important “check” on the results. 

4. The NGS film first aired in the United States a few months after we filmed 
with David Hamlin in St. Louis, on March 13, 2005. 

5. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005. 

6. Smith 1903, 1904a, b. 

7. Allen, Bruss, and Damasio 2006. 

8. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “LBr’s virtual endocast, microcephaly,” 2009. 

9. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005; Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “LBi’s 
virtual endocast, microcephaly,” 2009. See Allen, Bruss, and Damasio 2006 for 
details. 

10. Rilling and Seligman 2002; Semendeferi 2001; Semendeferi and Dama- 
sio 2000. 

11. Semendeferi et al. 2001, 2002. 

12. Dehaene 2009, 124. 

13. Dehaene 2009, 212. 

14. LeMay 1992; Bear et al. 1986. 

15. Rolls 2004. 

16. Semendeferi et al. 2001. 

17. Semendeferi et al. 2010. 

18. The formation of convolutions is one way to add extra volume to the 
cerebral cortex of a brain, which is contained within a constrained space (brain- 
case). Another way to increase the volume of cerebral cortex is to increase the 
overall size of a brain, if there is room to do so within the braincase (or if the 
braincase enlarges accordingly). 

19. Burgess et al. 2005. 

20. Muzur, Pace-Schott, and Hobson 2002. 

21. Gilbert and Wilson 2007, 1354. 

22. Koechlin and Hyafil 2007, 598. 

23. Pennetti, Sgaramella-Zonta, and Astolfi 1986. 

24. For details, see the Supporting Online Material for Falk, Hildebolt, et al., 
“The brain,” 2005. 

2y. Schultz 1956. For a graph, see the Supporting Online Material for Falk, 


212 / Notes to Pages 124—135 


Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005. The body weight estimates used here are 
from Jungers and Baab 2009, which differ from the estimates we used in “The 
brain of LBi.” The updated body weight estimates place LBi even more squarely 
on the ape/australopithecine curve. 

26. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005, 245. Peter Brown had suggested 
the same possibility when Homo floresiensis was first announced in Nature (Brown 
et al. 2004). 

27. Weidenreich 1941. 

28. Weston and Lister 2009. 

29. For details of the expensive tissue hypothesis, see Aiello and Wheeler 
1995; and Aiello, Bates, andjoffe 2001. 

30. Weston and Lister 2009, 85. 

31. Phillips quoted in Gugliotta 2005. 

32. Verrengia 2005. 

33. Gugliotta 2005. 

34. Hotz 2005. 

35. Weber, Czarnetzki, and Pusch 2005; Falk, Hildebolt, et al., Response, 2005. 

36. Weber, Czarnetzki, and Pusch 2005, first page. 

37. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., Response, 2005. 

38. This apt term was coined by my colleague from Stony Brook, William 
Jungers. 


7. SICK HOBBITS, QUARRELSOME SCIENTISTS 

The first of the opening epigraphs is from Gruber 1948, 439. The second is 
quoted from Bill Griffith’s cult comic strip Zippy the Pinhead , which was partly 
inspired by the well-known microcephalies William Henryjohnson (“Zip the 
Pinhead,” 1842—1926), Simon Metz (“Schlitzie,” 1901— 71), and the twins Jenny 
Lee and Elvira Snow (“Zip and Pip” in Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film Freaks). 

1. Gee 2007. 

2. The first Neanderthal fossil was unearthed in 1830 in Belgium but was not 
recognized as an extinct human. Scholars also did not understand the evolu- 
tionary significance of a Neanderthal skull that was recovered in 1848 at Forbes’s 
Quarry in Gibraltar, Spain. 

3. As detailed in Regal 2004, the workers, who thought the bones might be 
the remains of a cave bear, gave them to a teacher and natural historian, Johann 
Karl Fuhlrott. Fuhlrott consulted with his mentor, natural historian Hermann 
Schaaffhausen, from the University of Bonn. They presented their findings at 


Notes to Pages ijj—ijp / 213 


the 1857 meeting of the Natural History Society of Prussian Rhineland and 
Westphalia, at Kassel. Their insistence that the strange bones were from a nor- 
mal human of great antiquity met with resistance from many of the attendees. 

4. Gruber 1948, 436. 

5. Quoted in Gruber 1948, 438-39. These opinions were expressed, respec- 
tively, by William King, anatomist at Ireland’s Queen’s University; C. Carter 
Blake, honorary secretary of the Anthropological Society of London; and the 
German anatomist A. Mayer. The German pathologist Rudolf Virchow also 
believed the Neanderthal specimen was a human who had suffered from rick- 
ets. For additional information about the controversial discovery of Neander- 
thals, see Drell 2000; Regal 2004; Trinkaus and Shipman 1993; and de Vos 2009. 

6. Although many workers have argued that Neanderthals were an entirely 
separate species of early human, Homo neanderthalensis, a recent analysis of Nean- 
derthal genes by Green et al. (2010, 722) “shows that they are likely to have had 
a role in the genetic ancestry of present-day humans outside of Africa.” This 
finding suggests that Neanderthals merely constituted a separate subspecies of 
human, namely Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. 

7. See de Vos 2009 for another treatment of parallels in the initial rejec- 
tions and eventual acceptances by scholars of the discoveries of Neanderthals 
and Homo (Pithecanthropus) erectus. De Vos observes that Homo floresiensis is at 
the beginning of a similar process and predicts that it will also, eventually, be 
accepted as a legitimate species. 

8. Details about the negative reception to the discovery of Pithecanthropus 
erectus are also provided by Dubois 1896; Regal 2004; and Shipman 2002. 

9. The controversial reaction to Taung is discussed in Findlay 1972; and 
Tobias 1996. 

10. Krause 2009. 

11. Vidal 2005. 

12. Indeed, Bill Griffith’s comic strip Zippy the Pinhead was partly inspired 
by several famous microcephalies who performed in sideshows in the late 1800s 
and early 1900s, as detailed in the unnumbered note above. 

13. See Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “Brain shape,” 2007, for details. 

14. Hornberger 2005. 

15. Comas 1968. 

16. Tod Browning’s extraordinary 1932 film, Freaks, employed actual carnival 
performers as actors. Although it was extremely controversial when it was first 
shown by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the thriller celebrated the abilities of its 
physically deformed cast members, who were portrayed as heroes in contrast to 


214 / Notes to Pages ijy—ij-j 


villainous “normal” characters. Nonetheless, the initial reception to Freaks was 
so negative that it was back-burnered by the studio and banned for decades in 
Great Britain. Freaks eventually became a cult film, however, and was selected 
for preservation in 1994 by the United States National Film Registry. 

17. Henneberg and Thorne 2004; Weber, Czarnetzki, and Pusch 2ooy;Jacob 
et al. 2006; Martin, Maclarnon, et al., “Flores hominid,” 2006; Martin, Maclar- 
non, et al, Comment, 2006; Richards 2006; Martin 2007; Rauch et al. 2008. 

18. Weber, Czarnetzki, and Pusch 2005. 

19. Martin, Maclarnon, et al., Comment, 2006. 

20. Dru-Drury 1919—20. “Basuto” refers to Basutoland, which was the for- 
mer name for Lesotho, South Africa. According to Dru-Drury, who used corn 
seeds to measure the volume of the braincase, the woman had a cranial capac- 
ity of 340 cm 3 . My team CT-scanned the endocast that Bob Martin provided 
and obtained a virtual endocast with a volume of 358 cm 3 . 

21. Martin, Maclarnon, et al., Comment, 2006. 

22. Martin and his colleagues reiterated their arguments in a second 2006 
paper, “Flores hominid,” which appeared in the Anatomical Record , Part A: Dis- 
coveries in Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology, but once again neglected to 
provide a line drawing or photograph of LBi’s endocast. 

23. Flad photographs of the Basuto woman’s skull been included in Martin 
et al.’s comment, it would have been clear that it looked nothing like LBi’s, or 
the Indian microcephalic’s skull for that matter. Instead, the Basuto cranium 
appeared “long-headed and narrow, with a lowly vault, the face narrow, with 
apelike protrusion of the jaws” (Dru-Drury 1919—20, 152). 

24. Falk et al. 2006. 

25. Weston and Lister 2009. 

26. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005, Supporting Online Material. 

27. Vogt 1867. 

28. Hofman 1984. 

29. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “LBi’s virtual endocast,” 2007. 

30. Rauch et al. 2008. 

31. Brown et al. 2004; Rauch et al. 2008. 

32. Hall et al. 2004. 

33. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “LBi’s virtual endocast, microcephaly” 2009. 

34. Hofman 1984. These upper limits for the estimated ranges of cranial 
capacities of male and female microcephalies were defined as three standard 
deviations below the mean for each sample of normal individuals, as is traditional. 

35. Michel Hofman kindly provided us with the data. 


Notes to Pages ij-j—iji / 217 


36. This sample also included the microcephalic we used in our first study. 

37. Two of the ten individuals that we accepted into our microcephalic sam- 
ple had cranial capacities of 667 cm 3 and 671 cm 3 , which were slightly above our 
preferred upper limit of 650 cm 3 . We decided to include them anyway in order 
to increase the sample size. 

38. Further details about the specimens are available in Falk, Hildebolt, et al., 
“Brain shape,” 2007. 

39. We used discriminant and canonical analyses to do this, and the results 
were statistically highly significant (Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “Brain shape,” 2007). 

40. Because these three specimens had not been used to develop the for- 
mula, it was proper to use it to classify them. 

41. So much for the argument that LBi’s endocast resembles that from the 
microcephalic Basuto woman, which was based only on line drawings. 

42. Martin 2007, 17. 

43. Because little, if anything, is known about shape asymmetries in skulls 
of microcephalies, we knew it would be scientifically unsound to correct the 
midline of a half-endocast produced from an irregularly cut half-skull and then 
use it to create a whole endocast (by mirroring the half-endocast), which would 
then be used to classify the specimen. 

44. Martin 2007, 18. 

45. Montgomery et al. 2011. The abbreviation ASPM is for the gene called 
abnormal spindlelike, microcephaly-associated. CDKjRAPz is the abbreviation 
for cyclin-dependent kinase 5 regulatory subunit-associated protein 2. 

46. Thompson et al. 2001. 

47. It is important to emphasize that this hypothesis does not equate mod- 
ern microcephalies with fossil hominins. The products of genes frequently 
contribute to a myriad of functions (known as pleiotrophy), in which case a 
mutation associated with a pathology, such as microcephaly, is likely to be dis- 
ruptive in numerous ways, in addition to arresting brain growth. Some of the 
more obvious manifestations, however, such as an extraordinarily small brain 
size, may represent the primitive state before positive selection acted on the 
trait. The difference is that the state (e.g., a small brain) in our ancestors was 
normal at the time, as would have been the pleiotrophic effects of its associ- 
ated genes. 

48. Falk et al. 2000. 

49. Gonzalez-Jose et al. 2008. 

yo. Data from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, and from Australopithecus sug- 
gest that the trend for enlarging brains had already begun by about 3 million 


2i 6 / Notes to Pages iw—ijj 


years ago in the gracile australopithecine lineage and would, thus, have been 
associated with the changes in brain shape that Dart detailed for Taung. 

51. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005; Falk, Hildebolt, et al., Response, 
2005; Falk et al. 2006; Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “Brain shape,” 2007; Falk, Hildebolt, 
et ah, “LBi’s virtual endocast,” 2007; Argue et ah 2006, 2009; Groves 2007; Larson 
et ah 2007, 2009; Tocheri et ah 2007 ; Gordon, Nevell, and Wood 2oo8;Jungers 
2oo9;Jungers and Baab 2oc>9;Jungers, Falk, et ah 2oo9;Jungers, Harcourt-Smith, 
et ah 2009; Montgomery et ah 2010. 

52. Laron, Pertzelan, and Mannheimer 1966; Hershkovtiz, Kornreich, and 
Laron 2007. 

53. Konfino, Pertzelan, and Laron 1975; Kornreich et ah 2002a, b; Laron 1995, 
1999a, b, 2004; Laron et ah 1992; Laron et ah 1991; Laron, Pertzelan, and Karp 
1968; Laron, Roitman, and Kauli 1979; Scharf and Laron 1972. 

54. Laron, Pertzelan, and Karp 1968, 884. 

55. Laron 2004. 

56. Brown et ah 2004; Morwood et ah 2004. 

57. See table 1 in Hershkovitz, Kornreich, and Laron 2007. 

58. Brown et ah 2004; Hershkovitz, Kornreich, and Laron 2007, 199. The one 
characteristic said to be typical for LS patients that hadn’t been described for 
LBi is absent or undersized frontal sinuses. 

59. Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “LBi’s virtual endocast,” 2007, 42. 

60. If anything, my colleagues and I are more bothered by the involvement 
of journalists than we are by other scientists in these debates. Science writers 
are usually highly educated and perfectly capable of assessing the scientific 
merits of both sides of controversies concerning human evolution. At times 
it is frustrating because, in going for a good (read dramatic) story and in giv- 
ing a veneer of objectivity, journalists sometimes give more “equal time” than 
scientifically warranted to views that they, in fact, know are highly question- 
able. As a result, a few blustering colleagues have become skilled at inserting 
“sound bites” that consist of pure puffery (i.e., are based on zero evidence) into 
news stories or other media. This “Herr-Professor-Doktor” approach to Homo 
floresiensis would be amusing if the sorry state of science education in America 
weren’t such a serious matter. 

61. Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “Nonpathological asymmetry,” 2009. The journal 
was the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 

62. The interested reader can find numerous images that compare LBi with 
untreated patients that had Laron syndrome, along with relevant quantitative 
data, in Falk, Hildebolt, et ah, “Nonpathological asymmetry,” 2009. 


Notes to Pages / 217 


63. See table 1 of Hershkovitz, Kornreich, and Laron 2007. 

64. Laron 2004, 1034. 

65. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “Nonpathological asymmetry,” 2009. 

66. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “Nonpathological asymmetry,” 2009, 61. 

67. Obendorf, Oxnard, and Kefford 2008; Oxnard, Obendorf, and KefFord 2010. 

68. Jungers, Falk, et al. 2009. 

69. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005. Obendorf, Oxnard, and Kef- 
ford (2008) took their so-called measurements of the pituitary fossa from figure 
2E in the Supporting Online Material of this article. 

70. Jungers et al., in preparation. 

71. Obendorf, Oxnard, and Keffort 2008, 1293. The apparent reason the au- 
thors offered an explanation for how brain growth might be further decreased 
in cretins is that, despite their other pathologies, they usually have brains that 
are much larger than LBi’s. 

72. Obendorf, Oxnard, and Keffort 2008, 1294. 

73. Culatta 2008. 

74. Culatta 2008; O’Keefe 2008. 

75. Brown et al. 2004; Brown 2008. 

76. Brown 2008. 

77. O’Keefe 2008. 

78. Brown 2008. 

79. Culotta 2008. 

80. Eckhardt and Henneberg 2010. 

81. Falk et al. 2010. See also Baab and McNulty 2009 for an assessment of 
asymmetry in LBi. 

82. Kaifu et al. 2010; McNulty and Baab 2010. 

8. WHENCE HOMO FLORESIENSIS? 

The first of the opening epigraphs is from Carroll 1899, 96. The second is from 
Peter Brown, quoted in Kohn 2005, 41. 

1. Jungers and Baab 2009, 163. 

2. http://anthropology.net/2009/04/26/hobbits-in-the-haystack-homo-flo 
resiensis-and-human-evolution/. 

3. Forth 1998, 2005. 

4. Roberts 2004. 

5. Wong 2005. 

6. Roberts 2004. 


n8 / Notes to Pages 163—169 


7. Forth 2005. On the basis of information provided to him by the Nage, 
Forth estimates that the ebu gogo were exterminated between 1750 and 1820. 

8. Goldenberg 2007. 

9. Forth 2005, 15. 

10. Roberts 2004. 

11. As discussed in chapter 5, it would not be surprising if LBi was smaller 
than her ancestors, because the descendants of many larger animals that migrate 
to islands become dwarfed in keeping with the “island rule.” Problems with this 
interpretation remain unresolved, however, such as the small size of Hobbit’s 
brain relative to her body size and (as detailed in this chapter) the resemblance 
of a good deal of her anatomy to that of much earlier small-bodied hominins. 

12. To avoid clutter, I have not included Paranthropus, because this group of 
hominins is believed to have been a side branch that was not directly involved in 
human evolution. The chart also excludes hominins that lived between approx- 
imately 4.2 million and 7 million years ago, such as Ardipithecus, Orrorin , and 
Sahelanthropus, because their interpretations are murky, and, in any event, they 
are not relevant for understanding the origins of Homo floresiensis. 

13. Dart 1925a. 

14. Wood and Collard 1999; Wood and Lonergan 2008; Clarke 2008. 

15. Ron Clarke, for example, includes OH 7 and KNM-ER 1470 in Homo habi- 
lis but views OH 62 and OH 24 as Australopithecus africanus. See Clarke 2008. 

16. Wood and Lonergan 2008, 361. 

17. Wood and Lonergan 2008. 

18. Gabunia and Vekua 1995; Gabunia et al. 2000; Vekua et al. 2002; Lordki- 
panidze et al. 2005, 2006, 2007. 

19. Swisher et al. 1996. 

20. Wood and Lonergan 2008. 

21. Collard and Wood 2007; Wood and Lonergan 2008. It is not that scien- 
tists are trying to be difficult when they assign fossil hominins to a particular 
genus and species. As these two studies detail, one must choose from various 
criteria when making such assignments, and they all have potential problems 
because of the imperfect nature of the fossil record and the weaknesses that 
are inherent in different methodologies. 

22. Johanson, White, and Coppens 1978. 

23. Wood and Lonergan (2008) call these nonrobust australopithecines 
“archaic hominins,” by which they mean species that are not in the following 
genera: Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, Ardipithecus, Paranthropus, and Homo. Alas, a rela- 
tively complete skeleton for the genus Paranthropus has yet to be discovered, so 


Notes to Pages 169—172 / 219 


the general body plan for robust australopithecines remains a question mark. 
According to Wood and Lonergan’s definition, archaic hominins included, in 
chronological order, Australopithecus anamensis, Australopithecus afarensis, Kenyan- 
thropus platyops, Australopithecus hahrelghazali, and Australopithecus africanus. 

24. Alemseged et al. (200 6) date the baby to about 3.3 million years ago. 

25. Zeresenay quoted in Sloan 2006, 156. 

2 6. Haile-Selassie et al. 2010. 

27. Gibbons 2010. 

28. Because of the fragmentary limb bones, the suggestion of Haile-Selassie 
et al. (2010) that A. afarensis spent little, if any, time in trees must be taken with a 
large grain of salt — especially in light of evidence from Dikika. The argument 
that A. afarensis was completely modern in its bipedalism is not accepted by most 
researchers today. It emerged in the 1970s in association with the hypothesis 
that Lucy was likely to be the direct ancestor of Homo (i.e., “the mother of us 
all”). The assertion that Australopithecus afarensis was completely committed 
to terrestrial bipedalism has recently been reaffirmed by Ward, Kimbel, and 
Johanson (2011) on the questionable basis of one foot bone. 

29. Clarke and Tobias 1995; Clarke 2008. 

30. Much more information will eventually be forthcoming from this trea- 
sure of a skeleton. To date, Clarke’s team has uncovered StW573’s skull, left and 
right arms and hands, right scapula, right clavicle, a number of ribs and vertebrae, 
pelvis, sacrum, both legs, and some foot bones. See Clarke 2008 for other details. 

31. Clarke 2008. 

32. Clarke and Tobias 1995, 524. 

33. Clarke and Tobias 1995, 524. 

34. Berger et al. 2010. Berger’s nine-year-old son, Matthew, discovered the 
first specimen of this new species. 

35. See, for instance, Balter 2010. 

36. Richmond, Aiello, and Wood 2002; Collard and Wood 2007. 

37. Johanson et al. 1987. 

38. Wood and Collard 1999; Wood and Lonergan 2008; Clarke 2008. 

39. Dates from Wood and Lonergan 2008. Another earlier genus, Ardipithecus , 
believed by some to be a primitive hominin, lived in East Africa from approx- 
imately 5.8 million to 4.3 million years ago. A relatively complete skeleton of 
a 4.4-million-year-old female from this genus (nicknamed Ardi) was recently 
described and interpreted with much fanfare (White et al. 2009). Although this 
specimen is a most welcome addition to the fossil record, it is not directly rel- 
evant to the current discussions about Hobbit. 


220 / Notes to Pages 173—17J 


40. Brown et al. 1985; Walker and Leakey 1993; Dean and Smith 2009. 

41. Dean and Smith 2009. This estimate of WT yK’s age at death is an update 
to earlier estimates that suggested he might have been as old as n. 

42. Tattersall 2007, 1644. 

43. Wood and Lonergan 2008; Falk et al. 2000. 

44. Brown et al. 1985. 

45. Tattersall 2007. Tattersall is a splitter who does not think that WT 15K 
belongs in Homo ergaster. Instead, he would place it and KNM-ER 1813 and OH 13 
in Homo microcranous (1645— 46). 

46. See Wood and Lonergan 2008, 361. It should be noted, however, that 
this assumption fails to do justice to the extensive variation that is revealed by 
observing all of the hominin fossils, including fragmentary ones. This variation 
is one reason why some paleontologists, like Ian Tattersall, prefer to be splitters 
rather than lumpers. On the other hand, the suggestion that the African fossils 
of early Homo are regional variations of Homo erectus has been strengthened by 
the recent discovery of a 1.55-million-year-old cranium (KNM-ER 42700) from 
the Ileret region of Kenya (Spoor et al. 2007). With a cranial capacity of 691 cm 3 , 
the cranium has features that were previously seen only in the Asian Homo erec- 
tus specimens. 

47. Swisher et al. 1996. See Wong 2005 for discussion. 

48. According to Stone (2006), artifacts older than 1 million years were not 
recovered from Java until 2006. Stone reported that this changed when archae- 
ologist Harry Widianto, of the National Research Centre of Archaeology, in 
Yogyakarta, Indonesia, reported unearthing 220 stone flakes that were at least 
1.6 million years old from the Sangiran site in central Java. These tools provide 
some of the earliest evidence for stone tools outside Africa. Stone quotes the 
anthropologist Russell Ciochon as saying that the flakes are smaller and finer 
than the stone choppers made by Homo erectus in Africa, which may be related to 
the scarcity of raw materials in the region. 

49. Shipman 2002, 454. Interestingly, in speaking about Asian Homo erectus 
in general, Wood and Lonergan note, “The limb bones are modern human— like 
in their proportions and have robust shafts, but the shafts of the long bones of 
the lower limb are flattened from front to back (femur) and side to side (tibia) 
relative to those of modern humans” (Wood and Lonergan 2008, 362). 

50. According to Wood and Lonergan (2008), remains of Australopithecus have 
been dated back to 4.5 million years. 

51. As noted, this neat dichotomy is based on just a few skeletons and makes 
no effort to account for the extensive variation seen within the major “morphs” of 


Notes to Pages iyy—iyfi / 


221 


early hominins. Splitters who focus on variation have placed WT ryK in various 
species including Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, or Homo microcranous (Tattersall 2007). 

52. The date for the origin of Homo is not yet known, although remains as 
old as 2.4 million years have been attributed to this genus. 

53. Gabunia and Vekua 1995; Gabunia et al. 2000; Vekua et al. 2002; Lord- 
kipanidze et al. 2005, 2006, 2007. 

54. Rightmire, Lordkipanidze, and Vekua 2006. 

55. Rightmire, Lordkipanidze, and Vekua 2006. 

56. Tattersall 2007. 

57. Lordkipanidze et al. 2007. 

58. The skull (D2700) had been described earlier, but the bones from below 
the head had not. According to Lee (2005), the gracile form of the skull suggests 
that the individual was female, but the upper canine teeth are consistent with 
its having been male. The range of the stature estimates provided by Lordki- 
panidze and his colleagues (2007), uncorrected for age, for the Dmanisi youth 
was 4'9" to jY'. The range of the stature estimates, uncorrected for age, for WT 
15K was 4'n" to fj ". 

59. Despite the increase in absolute brain size of the Dmanisi hominins com- 
pared with that of australopithecines, the many stone tools found at Dmanisi 
were similar to the most primitive kind of tools that appeared in East Africa 
as long ago as 2.6 million years (identified as Oldowan Mode 1 artifacts). More 
sophisticated Oldowan-like tools were not found at the site. See Gabunia et al. 
2000 for details. 

60. Gabunia et al. 2000. 

61. Gabunia et al. 2000, 1025. 

62. According to Gibbons (2007) , this suggests “that a dramatic reorganiza- 
tion for the orientation of the upper arm and shoulder, which allows overhead 
throwing (and piano playing), came relatively late in the evolution of humans.” 

63. Spoor et al. 2007. The derived features of KNM-ER 42700 include cra- 
nial vault keeling and a mastoid process that is well separated from the petrous 
crest. 

64. Dart 1956. 

65. Rightmire, Lordkipanidze, and Vekua 2006. 

66. Rightmire, Lordkipanidze, and Vekua 2006, 138. 

67. Tattersall 2007, 1651. 

68. As discussed earlier, the discoverers of Kadanuumuu (Haile-Selassie et 
al. 2010) disagree with this interpretation. 


222 


/ Notes to Pages 179—183 


69. Jungers and Baab 2009. 

70. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005. 

71. Falk, Hildebolt, et al., “The brain,” 2005. 

72. Cranial bones that are full of bubbles are said to be pneumatized. 

73. For interesting speculation about why the skulls of Homo erectus might be 
so thick, see Boaz and Ciochon 2004. See also skull thickness measurements in 
Brown et al. 2004, supplementary table 1, and compare with similar data from 
Gauld 199 6. Measurements of skull thickness are from different and compara- 
ble parts of the braincase in both sources. Gauld’s Homo erectus sample consists 
of specimens from both Indonesia and China. 

74. Gordon, Nevell, and Wood 2008. Interestingly, these researchers believed 
LBi appeared more like the non-Asian forms of Homo erectus than the Asian ones. 
We need to keep in mind, however, that their samples for Homo erectus consist of 
only one Asian cranium (Sangiran 17) and two non-Asian skulls (KNM-ER 3733 
from Kenya and D2700 from the Republic of Georgia). Two specimens compose 
their Homo habilis sample — KNM-ER 1813 and OH 24. 

75. Brown and Maeda 2009. 

7 6. Jungers 2009; Jungers and Baab 2009; Jungers, Larson, et al. 2009. 

77. Jungers and Baab 2009, 162. 

78. According to Jungers and Baab (2009), modern pygmies are defined as 
groups of people in which the average height for males is less than 4'n". 

79. Larson et al. 2007, 2009. The early Homo specimens that manifested prim- 
itive features associated with the shoulder similar to Homofloresiensis were KNM- 
WT ryooo from Kenya and specimens from Dmanisi, the Republic of Georgia. 

80. Tocheri et al. 2007. 

81. Jungers, Harcourt-Smith, et al. 2009. 

82. Interestingly, your foot probably does stretch as far as your wrist to the 
inside of your flexed elbow — try it! LBi’s fleshy foot is estimated to have been 
about 196 mm by Jungers, Harcourt-Smith, et al. (2009). Her right forearm was 
over 190 mm long and may have been around 205 mm according to Larson et 
al. (2009). This suggests that LBi’s foot length was roughly equal to her forearm 
length, similar to living people. If so, this might be one piece of evidence sup- 
porting the controversial hypothesis that LBi’s hindlimbs were differentially 
shortened as a result of insular dwarfing in an island habitat. 

83. These techniques include comparative functional anatomy, cladistic anal- 
ysis, and applications of various statistical methods that rely on modern com- 
puting technology. 

84. Gordon, Nevell, and Wood (2008) and Argue et al. (2009) include KNM- 


Notes to Pages 183—189 j 223 


ER 1813 in Homo habilis, whereas Clarke (2008, 447) thinks that “the smaller- 
brained, more Australopithecus-Mke fossils OH 13, KNM-ER 1813, OH 24 and OH 
62 . . . should be removed from the taxon Homo habilis as they have no similarity 
to Homo habilis as represented by the type specimen OH 7.” 

85. Argue et al. 2009. This study used a method called cladistic analysis, 
which uses advanced (derived) traits to determine the most likely evolution- 
ary trees. 

86. Again, one must keep in mind that the two Homo habilis specimens in- 
cluded in Argue et al.’s 2009 analysis were KNM-ER 1813 and OH 24, both of 
which Ron Clarke includes in Australopithecus. 

87. Brown and Maeda 2009, 592. 

88. lungers, Harcourt-Smith, et al. 2009. 

89. Jungers, Harcourt-Smith, et al. 2009, 83. 

90. Brown and Maeda 2009, 593. 

91. Morwood and Jungers 2009, 644. 

92. Morwood and Jungers (2009, 640), on the other hand, favor the view that 
Homo floresiensis was descended from a very early form of Homo rather than Aus- 
tralopithecus and cite Argue et al.’s 2009 cladistic analysis as corroboration. It is 
important to keep in mind that some of the fossils that Argue et al. regard as 
Homo habilis are attributed to Australopithecus by some other scientists. In other 
words, there is more agreement among scientists about which fossils LBi most 
resembles than first meets the eye. The problem is that different scientists some- 
times attribute those fossils to different genera, which muddies the picture. 

93. Moore and Brumm 2008. 

94. Brumm et al. 2010. 

95. Moore and Brumm 2008, 66. The authors also stress that similar techno- 
logical simplicity over long periods of time has occurred elsewhere in South- 
east Asia and that “the Pleistocene technological patterns identified on Flores 
are unexceptional.” 


9. BONES TO PICK 

The opening epigraph is quoted in Darwin and Darwin 1887, 316. This quota- 
tion is originally from a letter that Charles Darwin wrote to W. Graham on 
July 3, 1881. 

1. Dubois 1894, 1896. The date of Dubois’s finds is believed to be approxi- 
mately 1.0 million to 0.7 million years ago. 

2. Tobias 1984; Shipman 2002. 


224 / Notes to Pages 189—194 


3. The codiscoverers of natural selection also had wanderlust. Charles Dar- 
win and Alfred Russel Wallace were both inspired by sea voyages that permit- 
ted them to observe natural phenomena on faraway islands. 

4. Shipman 2002, 234. 

5. Shipman 2002, 186. 

6. Dart 1925a; Darwin 1871. 

7. Shipman 2002, 320; Dart with Craig 1959, 59. 

8. Dubois 1894. Shipman (2002, 505) points out that Dubois’s monograph was 
criticized for its brevity, among other reasons, and suggests that these criti- 
cisms were instrumental in establishing the standards for modern monographs. 

9. Morwood andjungers 2009. 

10. Shipman 2002, 186; Dubois 1924; Keith 1931, 297. The Trinil 2 skullcap is 
today estimated to be from an individual who had a cranial capacity of between 
850 and 940 cm 3 (Spencer 1990a, 41; Holloway, Broadfield, and Yuan 2001, 298). 

11. Lydekker 1895, 291. 

12. Shipman 2002, 313, 329; Dubois 1896, 244. 

13. Shipman 2002, 284, 313. 

14. Shipman 2002, 313. 

15. Shipman 2002, 319. 

16. Quoted in Shipman 2002, from “Homo Erectus,” a newspaper report in 
Bataviaasch Nieuwsblad, February 6, 1893. for discussion, see Shipman 2002, 195—99. 

17. Dubois 1896, 243-44. 

18. Dubois 1896, 245. 

19. Dubois 1896, 244. 

20. Unlike Dart, however, Dubois became so entrenched in defending his 
discovery as the missing link that he eventually died an embittered, rather than 
a vindicated, man. In his later years, Dubois overstated the apelike (gibbonlike) 
attributes of Pithecanthropus erectus compared with other similar fossils that were 
eventually discovered on java. Contrary to lore, however, he never reversed his 
opinion that his discovery represented an ape-man in favor of Virchow’s claim 
that it was from a fossil gibbon (Shipman 2002, 506) — nor, as far as I can tell, 
did he bury his fossils underneath his dining room floor! 

21. Shipman 2002, 65—66; Darwin 1871. 

22. Keith 1931, 273. 

23. Tobias 1996. 

24. Dubois 1924. 

25. These techniques are used to study how different parts of the body scale 


Notes to Pages ip^—ipS / 225 


with different overall body sizes, which is known as allometric scaling. Ship- 
man 2002, 505. 

26. Although this quip has frequently been attributed to Henry Kissinger, 
it is actually an expression of “Sayre’s law,” which was formulated in 1973 by the 
political scientist Wallace Sayre. Sayre, in turn, may have been paraphrasing 
an even earlier remark made by Woodrow Wilson. 

27. Dart with Craig 1959, 237. 

28. Maser and Gallup 1990. 

29. Broom, Sena, and Moynihan 2009. 

30. See also Falk 2004a, 2009a. 

31. Maser and Gallup 1990, 523. 

32. Maser and Gallup 1990, 525-2 6. 

33. Russo 2009. 

34. Larson and Witham 1998. 

35. Russo 2009. 

36. Larson 2006. 

37. The Web site for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) 
(http://ncse.com/creationism) is a rich source of the latest information about 
the ongoing debate. Passionate disagreement about how best to educate our chil- 
dren in evolutionary science has always been at the heart of this controversy, at 
least in the United States. As detailed by Eugenie Scott, of the NCSE, efforts 
to ban the teaching of evolution have gone through various stages since the 
Scopes trial, including the rise of so-called creation science, which mutated 
more recently into the intelligent design (ID) movement. The concept of ID is 
based on the unsubstantiated assertion that certain phenomena (such as eyes) 
are too complex to have arisen by Darwinian natural selection and, so, must 
have been deliberately designed by a designer — namely God. According to the 
NCSE Web site, advocates initially encouraged giving equal time to ID in pub- 
lic school science classes but shifted in the first decade of this century to attack- 
ing the theory of evolution itself and urging school teachers to teach students 
that scientific evidence against it exists (which is not true) and that controversy 
exists among scientists about whether evolution even occurred (which, at best, 
is highly misleading). Although “creationism has lost every major U.S. federal 
court case for the past 40 years,” findings from a recent analysis suggest that 
religious fundamentalism continues to have an impact in the classroom (Berk- 
man and Plutzer 2011, 404). 

38. After submitting a draft of this book to my publisher, I learned from one 
of its reviewers of an interesting article, “Receiving an Ancestor in the Phylo- 


226 / Notes to Page ip8 


genetic Tree,” by geologistjohn de Vos (2009). In it, de Vos details many ways 
in which early naturalists denied the legitimacy of the initial discoveries of 
Neanderthals and Homo (Pithecanthropus) erectus, and he observes that the same 
thing is happening now. To my delight, he adds, “But that it still takes place in 
the present time with Homo floresiensis is surprising” (de Vos 2009, 376). 


GLOSSARY OF 

NEUROANATOMICAL TERMS 


affenspalte crescent-shaped sulcus at front end of visual cortex on apes’ 
and monkeys’ brains, German for “ape fissure,” old-fashioned term for 
lunate sulcus 

association cortex expanses of the cerebral cortex that integrate input 
that has already been processed by primary sensory and motor cortical 
areas, involved in higher mental functions 
broca’s area a region of prefrontal cortex of the left frontal lobe of humans 
that facilitates speech, known also as Broca’s speech area 
brodmann’s area io (ba io) most anterior (frontopolar) part of frontal 
lobe; important for switching between mental states, multitasking, and 
simulating future events; increased significantly in size during human 
evolution 

cerebellum a structure at the base of the brain that is involved with move- 
ment, equilibrium, balance, and some cognitive functions; Latin for “little 
brain” 

cerebral cortex outermost part of brain that is involved in higher 
cognitive functions, including conscious thought 
cerebrum largest part of brain; consists of two cerebral hemispheres, each of 
which is divided into various lobes 

convolutions folds or convexities of gray matter on the outermost part of 
the brain 

cranial capacity the volume of the braincase measured in cubic centi- 
meters (cm 5 ), a proxy for brain size in grams 


ill 


228 / Glossary 


endocast short for endocranial cast, a mold of the interior of the braincase 
that reproduces the shape of the brain and some of its surface details; may 
occur naturally or be prepared artificially 
frontal lobe most anterior lobe in each hemisphere of the brain, contains 
primary motor cortex and association cortices that are important for 
processing higher cognitive functions, including speech, long-term 
memory, planning, emotional control, and social intelligence 
fronto-orbital sulcus (fo) sulcus that incises the edge and courses under- 
neath the back part of the frontal lobe; significant because it appears in 
apes but not in humans 

frontopolar cortex cortex in most anterior part of frontal lobes, known 
as BA io 

gray matter gray-colored parts of brain that contain neuronal cell bodies, 
e.g., convolutions of the cerebral cortex; contrasts with the white fibers 
that communicate between regions containing neuronal bodies (white 
matter) 

gyrus (plural gyri) a convolution or fold of gray matter 
homunculus figure of a little human that illustrates the maps for the 
primary somatosensory and motor cortices on the surface of the brain 
lambdoid suture jagged seam at the back of skull where parietal and 

occipital bones join during development; may be reproduced on endocasts 
and was mistaken for the lunate sulcus on the Taung endocast by 
Raymond Dart 

lunate sulcus crescent-shaped sulcus that approximates the anterior 
border of the primary visual cortex in monkeys and apes; controversial in 
studies of hominin brain evolution 

microcephaly a pathological condition in which individuals have abnormally 
small heads because their brains failed to grow normally; typified by big 
faces, sloping foreheads, and protruding posterior parts of the brain; caused 
by various environmental and genetic factors 
mosaic brain evolution idea that different parts of the cerebral cortex 
evolved at different times, controversial 
neurological reorganization evolutionary changes in the internal 
wiring, neurochemistry, and relative proportions of different parts of 
the brain 

neuron nerve cell that conducts impulses, a basic unit of the brain 
occipital lobe most posterior lobe in each hemisphere of the brain, 
processes vision 


Glossary / 229 


paleoneurology study of brain evolution, strong focus on endocasts, 
cranial capacities 

parietal lobe upper middle lobe in each hemisphere of brain, which 
processes input from multiple senses 

phrenology antiquated pseudoscience that assesses a person’s personality 
and skills from the shape of his or her skull, now abandoned 
prefrontal cortex anterior part of frontal lobes that is in front of the 
motor regions, involved in higher cognition, relatively enlarged in humans 
primary motor cortex brain region at posterior end of the frontal lobe 
that facilitates movements of the opposite side of the body 
primary sensory areas parts of the cerebrum that receive sensory input 
for smell, taste, hearing, vision, and bodily sensations related to touch, 
temperature, pain, etc. 

primary somatosensory cortex a narrow strip of cortex at front of the 
parietal lobe and directly behind the primary motor cortex, processes 
incoming sensory information from touch, pressure, temperature, and 
pain. Organization of body representations mirrors those of primary 
motor cortex (see homunculus) 

relative brain size (rbs) size of the brain relative to the body (brain size 
divided by body size) 

sulcal pattern arrangement of sulci on the brain’s surface 
sulcus (plural sulci) groove on the surface of the brain that separates bulges 
of gray matter (convolutions) 

suture ridgelike trace where bones of the skull knitted together during 
development, may be reproduced on endocasts 
temporal lobe lower middle lobe in each hemisphere of the brain, which 
processes hearing, memory, emotions, and aspects of language and 
sensory perception 

visual cortex posterior region of the cerebral cortex that processes visual 
stimuli, includes primary visual cortex of occipital lobe 


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Young, Robert B. 1925a. The calcareous tufa deposits of the Campbell Rand, 
from Boetsap to Taungs native reserve. Transactions of the Geological Society of 
South Africa 28:55— 67. 

. 1925b. Unpublished letter to Raymond Dart, February 7. Raymond 

Dart Papers, University of Witwatersrand Archives, Johannesburg, South 
Africa. 


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INDEX 


Note: References specific to skeleton LBi are under Hobbit (LBi); broader references to the 
hobbits are under Homo floresiensis. 


Alemseged, Zeresenay, 169 
Allen, John et al., 117 
apes: fronto-orbital sulcus in, 70; lunate 
sulcus in, 69. See also chimpanzees; 
gorillas 

Ardipithecus, 219039 
Argue, Debbie, 183, 223092 
australopithecines, 166; body build 
of, 169, 172; brain size of, 63, 65; 
discovery of “premature,” 193; 
foot indicates both climbing and 
walking abilities, 170-71, 172-73; 
possibility of early migration out of 
Africa by, 185, 187 

Australopithecus afarensis, 168—70, 180, 181, 
219028 

Australopithecus africanus: advanced brain 
shape of, 151; naming of, 32, 190; over- 
estimate of brain capacity of, 63, 65. 
See also Dart, Raymond A.; Taung 
Australopithecus sediba, 171—72 
Awe, Rokhus Due, 92, 97 


Baab, Karen L., 161 
Barlow, F. O., 10, 47 
Berger, Lee R., 171—72 
bipedalism: of australopithecines, 73, 
166, 169, 170-71, 172, 173, 175, 178-79, 
219028; of early Homo, 175; enlarged 
posterior association cortex and, 118; 
evolved before increase in brain size, 
2o6ni2; of Homo erectus, 166, 167 
Boule, Marcellin, 7 

brain: Brodmann area 10 (BA 10) of, 120— 
22; cortical expansion recognized 
in Taung endocast, 72-74; effect of 
dwarfism on relative size of, 124-25; 
genes controlling size of, 150; global 
evolution of, 66; how size can be 
increased in, 2iim8; importance of 
cerebral cortex of, 24-25; language 
area of, 27; lobes and regions of, 25- 
27; proposed mosaic evolution of, 

62, 66; relative size (RBS) of, 82, 123, 
124-25; steady, rather than sudden, 


2 53 


274 / Index 


brain (continued) 

increase in size of, 66. See cranial 
capacity; Hobbit (LBi), brain of; 
Taung, brain of. See also endocasts 
Brodmann, Korbinian, 120 
Broom, Robert, 39, 50, 77 
Brown, Peter, 98, iy9, 180, 183-84, i8y 
Browning, Tod, 139, 140, 2i3-i4ni6 
Brumm, Adam, i8y 
Bryan, Williamjennings, 11 
Burgess, Paul W., 121 

cerebral cortex, 24— 2y, i2y, 2imi8; 
frontopolar cortex, 120—22; parieto- 
occipito-temporal cortex, 3 6, 37; 
posterior association cortex, 118, 126; 
prefrontal cortex, 72, 73, 119, 126 
chimpanzees: Dikika baby’s brain size 
similar to, 169; Hobbit’s brain size 
similar to, 82, 108, 2o8m8; lunate 
sulcus of, 37; Taung compared with, 
29, 37, 41, 43, 73; use of tools by, 84 
Clarke, Ronald J., 170—71, 223^4 
computed tomography (CT) scans, 104, 
ioy, 107, no 

Conroy, Glenn C. et ah, 63 
Cooke, John, 9—10 

cranial capacity, 34, 137, 177, 194. See also 
brain; endocast 
cretinism, 176—78 
Czarnetzki, Alfred, 129—34 

Damon and Company, 47, 191 
Dart, Dora Tyree, 14, 21, 22 
Dart, Raymond A.: character of, 12; con- 
sidered brain evolution as global 
phenomenon, 66; criticism of inter- 
pretation of Taung by, 2, 3, 4; edu- 
cation of, 12—14; on expansion of as- 
sociation cortices as only type of 
evidence indicative of relationship 
of australopithecines and humans, 
71—72, 126; fate of Taung monograph 
of, 48—49; fundamentalist upbring- 
ing of, 11— 12; initial reaction to Taung 


announcement of, 38—39; misiden- 
tification of lunate sulcus in Taung 
by, 60, 61, 69; parallels with Dubois 
and Morwood in career of, 4, 136, 
189-91, 194; photo of, 30; reaction 
to rejection of Taung interpreta- 
tion, 42, 47, 70—71; on relationship of 
religion and human evolution, 197; 
reply to Keith’s criticism of Wemb- 
ley exhibit, 47—46; on studying en- 
docasts, 74; ultimate acceptance of 
his interpretation of Taung, 74—77, 
76—77; unpublished manuscript on 
Taung of, 67-68, 70—74, 126; on why 
the human fossil record stirs intense 
passion, 73—74. See also Taung 
Darwin, Charles, 6-7, 32, 77, 137, 188, 189 
Dawson, Charles, 7, 9, 10, 16 
Dehaene, Stanislas, 83 
de Vos, John, 213117, 227-261138 
Dikika baby, 169, 171 
Dmanisi, 177—77, ’78, 184, 22iny8— 79 
Dru-Drury, E.G., 214^3 
Dubois, Eugene, 7, 18, 189; background 
of discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus, 
189—90; believed femur and skullcap 
from one individual, 174; believed 
Pithecanthropus (Homo) erectus to be 
missing link, 18, 19, 224^0; criticism 
of interpretations of, 7, 191-93; paral- 
lels with Dart and Morwood in ca- 
reer of, 90, 136, 189-91, 194; Shipman, 
Pat, biographer of, 174, 192. See also 
Pithecanthropus erectus ; Homo erectus 
Duckworth, W. L. H., 41-42 
dwarfism: arguments for and against 
hobbits being dwarfed Homo erectus, 
82, 99, 116, 123, 124, 127, 183—84, 2o8ni8; 
insular, 80, 81, 124—27, 142; Laron- 
type, 172; relative brain size and, 
124—27 

ebu gogo, 162—63 

endocasts, what they are and why 
they matter, 23—28; difficulties in 


Index j 255 


studying, 27, 74; importance of, 2; 
palpitation of, 61; virtual, 104; what 
they can reveal, 24 

Falk, Dean: collaboration with Mal- 
linckrodt Institute scholars on 
Hobbit endocast by, 105— 11; com- 
parison of Hobbit virtual endocast 
to apes and other hominins by, 
109—16, 122—23, 124, 127; identifica- 
tion of Taung sulci by, 64, 69—70; 
interpretation of Hobbit’s brain by, 
116—21, 122, 126; invitation to analyze 
Hobbit endocast, 76-79; photo of, 

97, 106; reaction to australopithecine 
endocast paper of, 61-63; research on 
microcephalies of, 144-51; response 
to claim that Hobbit has Laron syn- 
drome, 153-55; response to claim 
that Hobbit was a microcephalic, 
129-34, 141; study of australopith- 
ecine endocasts by, 60-61; study of 
Dart’s archive by, 66-70, 74 
Forth, Gregory, 163 
fronto-orbital sulcus, 64, 70, 119 
fundamentalists: on Piltdown, n; re- 
action to hobbits by, 99—102, 198; 
reaction to Pithecanthropus by, 192; 
reaction to Taung by, 51, 53 

Gallup, Gordon G., 195-97 
Gee, Henry, 102 
Gibbons, Ann, 2211162 
Gilbert, Daniel, 122 
gorillas, 41, 43, 169 
Green, R.E., et al., 213116 
Gregory, William K., 54-55 
Grigg, Russell, 53 
Gruber, Jacob W., 135 
Guyer,John, 65 

Hamlin, David, 76, 77-79, 103, hi , 112, 
n 4 

Hawks, John, 160 

Henneberg, Maciej, 97-98, 158-59 


Hildebolt, Charles, 63, 97, 105, m-14; 
photo of, 106, no 

Hinton, Martin, 17 

Hobbit (LBi), 3; assertion of microceph- 
aly for, 97-98, 138, 129-34, 141-42; 
asymmetry of skull partly the result 
of distortion from deep burial, 160; 
body weight of, 124; claimed to be 
modern, 158— 60; consensus in 2009 
about, 161 — 62; cretinism claimed 
for, 156-58; damage to bones of, 
95-96, 128; discovery of, 91-93; feet 
of, 182, 222082; image of, as female, 
181; image of, as male, 78; jaws and 
teeth of, 180; language capability 
of uncertain, 118; Laron syndrome 
claimed for, 152— 55; as most impor- 
tant hominin discovered since 
Taung, 4; reconstruction of body 
of, 180, 181; skeleton of, 157, 179; skull 
similar to Homo erectus, 179—80 

Hobbit (LBi), brain of: compared with 
apes and other hominins, 109—16; 
compared with Homo erectus, 114, 

116, 122-24; compared with micro- 
cephalies, 143-48, 149; compared 
with people with Laron syndrome, 
152; convoluted cerebral cortex of, 
125; difference from microcephalic 
of, 127; as example of global neu- 
rological reorganization, 125—26; 
expanded back of temporal lobes 
of, 118-19; expanded posterior asso- 
ciation cortex of, 118; frontopolar 
cortex of, 120—22; frontal lobes of, 
119—20; importance to understand- 
ing hominin evolution of, 126—27; 
insular dwarfism and, 124, 125; lacks 
lunate sulcus, 118; large convolutions 
in BA 10 area of, 120—22; lopsided 
when viewed from above, 119; occipi- 
tal protrusion of, 116, 117; prefrontal 
cortex of, 119; reaction to Science 
article on, 128—30, 132-34; relative 
size of, 82, 123—24, zo8ni8; Science 


256 / Index 


Hobbit (LBi), brain of (continued) 

article on, 115—16; virtual endocast of, 
hi, 117, 131, 143, 146 
hobbits. See Hobbit (LBi) 

Homo floresiensis 
Holloway, Ralph L., 59, 60—62 
hominins: archaic, 218—19023; method- 
ological problems in comparing, 

183; scientific skepticism about new 
species of, 135-38 

Homo erectus: African forms of, 166, 174, 
2201146; coconut story about discov- 
ery of, 18; from Dmanisi, 175—77, ' 7 ® 
Homo erectus ergaster, 174, 178. See also 
Nariokotome (NNM-WT 15000; 
WT 15K) 

Homo floresiensis probably not dwarfed 
from, 82, 183—84; i n J a va, 81, 174; 
KNM-ER 42700 from Koobi Fora, 
177; occipital lobes of, 118; reaction 
to discovery of, 7, 191; similarity of 
brain to Homo floresiensis, 118; Trinil 2, 
191, 224010. See also Dubois, Eugene; 
Pithecanthropus erectus 
Homo floresiensis: arguments for and 
against being dwarfed Homo erectus, 
82, 99, 116, 123, 124, 125, 183—84, t87, 
2o8ni8; as branch of early Homo, 183; 
dating of, 167, zojnr, diet of, 82; first 
announcement of, 77-79, 93-94; 
fundamentalist interpretation of, 
99— io 3 

hominin skeletons comparable to, 
164-65, 168-79 

hunting by, 88, 89, 90; paleopolitics 
surrounding discovery of, 92-98; 
possible lore on Flores about, 162— 63; 
possible relationships to Australo- 
pithecus of, 185, 187; probably not 
related to Dmanisi hominins, 184; 
similarity of skull to Homo erectus of, 
180; stone tools made by, 79—80, 84— 
88, 185, 186; use of fire by, 88; weight 
of, 81. See also Hobbit (LBi) 

Homo habilis, 166, 223084 


Homo sapiens, 167; claim that hobbits 
were just sick, 97-98, 101, 137-38, 153, 
158, 159; differences from hobbits 
of, 88; expanded parieto-occipito- 
temporal association cortex of, 36; 
on Flores, 87, 88; hobbits as contra- 
diction to multiregional evolution 
of, 97 

Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. See 
Neanderthals 
Howse, Christopher, 102—3 
human evolution, 1—2; as bush, not lad- 
der, 102; religion and, 195; views of 
molded partly by chance, 188-89 

Indonesian National Research Centre 
for Archaeology (ARKENAS), 92, 

93 

insular dwarfism. See under dwarfism 
intelligent design movement, 225^7 
island rule, 80, 81—82 

Jacob, Teuku, 92-93, 94, 95 
Jatmiko, 92, 93 

Jungers, William L., 161, 181, 182, 184—85, 
223092 

Kadanuumuu, 169-70 
Kaskan, RM. et ah, 2o6ni2 
Keith, Arthur, 10, 14, 18; admits error in 
interpreting Taung, 57; criticism of 
Woodward’s reconstruction of Pilt- 
down skull, 8—9; on Dart’s Wembley 
exhibit, 45; initial reaction to Dart’s 
Taung paper, 38; interpretations of 
Pithecanthropus, 18; later reaction to 
Dart’s Taung paper, 40—41; recol- 
lection of recommending Dart for 
South African job, 15 
Komodo dragons, 80, 89-90; lambdoid 
suture, 60, 61, 62, 67—68 

Lane, E. F. C., 43—44 
Lankester, Edwin Ray, 10 
Laron, Zvi, 152 


Index / 257 


Laron syndrome (LS), 152-55 
Larson, Edward, 53 
LBi. See Hobbit (LBi) 

Le Gros Clark, Wilfred, 56—57, 70 
Liang Bua, 79, 185 
Linnaeus, Carololus, non-ji 
Lister, Adrian, 125 
Little Foot, 170-71 

Lonergan, Nicholas, 218— 19^3, 220049 
Lucy, 168-69, 180, 181 
lunate sulcus: changed interpretation 
of, 117—18; Dart’s misidentification 
in Taung of, 60, 61, 69; Falk’s iden- 
tification in Taung of, 62—63, 64; 
location in modern humans of, 69 
Lydekker, Richard, 191—92 

Maeda, Tomoko, 180 
Makapansgat Valley, 56 
Malapa site, 171—72 
Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, 
105, 106 

Martin, Robert D., 128, 141—44, 

148-49 

Maser, Jack D., 195, 196-97 
Mata Menge site, 185, 186, 20807 
MHi and 2, 171—72, 179 
microcephalic osteodysplastic primor- 
dial dwarfism type II (MORPD II), 
H3-44 

microcephaly/microcephalics: asserted 
about LBi, 97-98, 138, 129-34, 141-42; 
brain size of, 143, 144—45; definition 
of, 138-39; endocast of, 142, 143, 144— 
48, 149; mutations linked to, 149—50; 
unpredicted shift in hobbit research 
to, 151; use in sideshows of, 139 
Moore, Mark W., 84, 85, 86-87, *85 
Morwood, Michael, 3; on announce- 
ment of Homo floresiensis, 94; on hob- 
bit life, 88—89; on Homo floresiensis 
as early Homo, 184—85, 223092; Indo- 
nesian paleopolitics and, 92—96; on 
origin of name Hobbit, 76; parallels 
with Dart and Dubois in career of, 


189-91; photo of, 91; project at Liang 
Bua of, 79—80, 90—95 
mosaic evolution, 62, 170, 2o6ni2 
multiregional evolution, 97 

Nariokotome (KNM-WT 15000; WT 
15K), 165,173-74, 175, 176, 177. See also 
Homo erectus 

National Academy of Sciences, 197 
National Center for Science Educa- 
tion, 225n37 

National Geographic Society, 76, 105, 
106, 107, 129, 144 
Nature, 76—77 

Neanderthals: discovery and early 
reaction to, 135—36, 2i2n2, 212—1303, 
21305; as a subspecies, 2qn6 
neuroanatomy, glossary of terms of, 
227-29 

OH 62, 172 

Oldowan tools, 88, 177, 185, 186, 221059 

paleoanthropology: ad hominem attacks 
in, 137; intensity of debates in, 7-8, 
194-95, 198; “lumpers” and “splitters,” 
in 165 

parallels in the careers of Dubois, Dart, 
and Morwood, 189—94; similarity 
to fundamentalists in reaction to 
new ideas about human evolution, 

2, 136, 189, 194, 195, 197, 198; tension 
between religion and, 195-97 
paleoneurology, 2, 28, 74, 194 
paleopolitics, 1, 3, 4, 92-98 
Paranthropus, 55, 57, 65—66, 151 
Paver, Mr., 33 

Piltdown Man, 2—3, 5, 7—10, 15—19; coco- 
nut story about discovery of, 18; 
considered missing link, 6, 7, 10— n; 
disagreement about reconstructing 
brain of, 8-9; exposed as fraud, 6, 9; 
fundamentalists right about, 11; oil 
painting of The Piltdomi Committee, 
10; perpetrator(s) of, 16-18 


258 / Index- 


Pithecanthropus erectus: body build of, 

174; coconut story about discovery 
of, 18; compared to Taung, 39, 72,; 
Dart’s thoughts on, 42, 44-46, 54, 
195; discovery and naming of, 7, 18, 
189; endocast of, 194; femurs of, 174; 
implications for human origins, 30, 
32; negative reception to, 98, 136-38, 
188, 191-93; Piltdown Committee’s 
awareness of, 18—19.; renamed Homo 
erectus, 7; skullcap of, 7, 19, 174, 189, 
191—92, 194. See Homo erectus. See also 
Dubois, Eugene. 

Phillips, James, 128 
phrenology, 28, 61, 74 
Prior, Fred, 106 
Pusch, Carsten, 129-34 
Pycraft, William Plane, 10 

Radinsky, Leonard, 60, 62 

Rana, Fazale, 100 

Redmond Jr., John, 65 

religion, 195—97. ^ee also fundamentalists 

Rightmire, Philip, 178 

Roberts, Richard, 162 

Romer, A. S., 55 

Salmons, Josephine, 20, 23, 201m 
Saptomo, E. Wahyu, 92, 97 
Schepers, Gerrit, 56 
Scopes, John, 53 
self, sense of, 196 
Shellshear, Joseph, 13 
Shipman, Pat, 174, 192 
Smith, Grafton Elliot, 10; believed 
human brain preceded evolution of 
face and jaw, 9; on enlargement of 
posterior association cortex, 118; first 
reaction to Dart’s Taung paper of, 38; 
on importance of Pitdown Man, 5; 
interpretation of the lunate sulcus of, 
12-13, 35" — 36; later reaction to Dart’s 
Taung paper of, 41, 42; support for 
Dart’s Wembley exhibit of, 45 


Smith, Kirk, 106, 107, no— n, 112— 13 

Smuts, Jan Christian, 38 

Soejono, Raden Pandji, 90, 92, 94, 95, 

9 6 

stegodonts, 81, 89, 90 
Sterkfontein, 63, 170, 171 
stone tools: associated with Homoflo- 
resiensis, 84—88; at Dmanisi, 221059; 
earliest evidence of, 83-84; earliest 
in java, 220048; Oldowan, 88, 185, 186 
Stw 505, 63, 65 
Sutikna, Thomas, 92, 97 

Talbot, Neville, 51-52 
Tarus, Benyamin, 91 
Tattersall, Ian, 178 

Taung, 4; bipedalism of, 73; cast exhib- 
ited at Wembley, 43—46; commercial 
casts of, 47; Dart’s report on, 30-33; 
described by Dart as “man-ape,” 30; 
difficulty of scientists in accepting 
as hominin, 136; discovery of, 20—23, 
28; face of, 29; fundamentalist reac- 
tion to, 51— 53; naming of, 7, 190; 
Piltdown and, 2, 3; photo of, 30, 31; 
removal from matrix by Dart of, 
28-29; teeth of, 54-55; willed to 
University of Witwaterstrand, 57-58 
Taung, brain of: expanded areas in, 72- 
73; global evolution of, according to 
Dart, 73; interpretation by Falk of, 
64, 69; lunate sulcus misidentified 
by Dart, 60, 61, 69; shape of, 72-74; 
size of, 34, 202039; sulci identified 
by Dart, 67 

temporal lobes, 73, 117, 118, 119, 126 
Thorne, Alan, 97-98, 159 
Tobias, Phillip, 50-51, 56 
Trinil 2, 191, 224010 

Underwood, Arthur Swayne, 10 
University of Witwatersrand, 14, 15 

Virchow, Rudolf, 191—92, 21305 


Index / 259 


Wasisto, Sri, 92 

Weber, Jochen, 129-34 

Weston, Eleanor, 125 

Wieland, Carl, 99-100 

Wilson, Timothy, 122 

Wolo Sege site, 79, 185 

Wood, Bernard, 218— 19^3, 22on49 


Woodward, Arthur Smith, 8, 10, 16, 41 
WT 15000 (WT 15K). See also Homo 
erectus; Nariokotome 

Yahya, Harun, 101 
Young, Robert, 20—21, 22—23 


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